Los Alamos evacuation order lifted allowing 12,000 to return home
Although the threat to Los Alamos and the nation's premier nuclear research lab has passed, the mammoth wildfire raging in northern New Mexico still threatens sacred sites of American Indian tribes.
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"We were also praying on our knees, we were asking the Creator in our cultural way to please forgive us, 'What have we done?'" Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. Walter Dasheno said. "Bring moisture so that the Mother Fire can be stopped. But that was not meant to be."Skip to next paragraph
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About 2,800 tribe members live in a dusty village nestled in New Mexico's high desert, near the mouth of Santa Clara Canyon where aspen and blue spruce forests provide relief from the dry desert and ponds provide water for irrigation. The canyon is north of the town of Los Alamos.
Pueblo Fire Chief Mel Tafoya said it was unclear whether cabins in the canyon or the ponds survived the blaze. Members of the state's congressional delegation have promised federal help for the tribe pending a damage assessment.
The tribe also worried that 1.5 million trees planted after the 2000 fire have been destroyed, as well as work to restore the Rio Grande cutthroat trout to the upper headwaters of the Santa Clara Creek. The tribe called for emergency federal relief.
To Santa Clara's south, Cochiti Pueblo was also worried about damage to ground cover affecting its watershed.
Archaeological sites at the northern end of the blaze at Bandelier National Monument hold great significance to area tribes. About half of the park has burned, Bandelier superintendent Jason Lott said.
Lab employees prepare to resume experiments
Meanwhile, hundreds of lab employees were returning to prepare operations and thousands of experiments for the scientists and technicians who were forced to evacuate days ago. Among the work put on hold were experiments using two supercomputers and studies on extending the life of 1960s-era nuclear bombs.
Employees were checking filters in air handling systems to ensure they weren't affected by smoke and restarting computer systems shut down when the lab closed.
"Once we start operation phases for the laboratory, it will take about two days to bring everyone back and have the laboratory fully operational," Lab Director Charles McMillan said.
The blaze remained in Los Alamos Canyon, which runs past the old Manhattan Project site and a 1940s-era dump site of low-level radioactive waste, as well as the site of a nuclear reactor that was demolished in 2003.
Firefighters had planned to burn out areas near homes west of the town to remove combustible material and ensure the fire doesn't creep through an area burned in a 2000 blaze, but the rain kept the fire away, Coil said.
For returning Los Alamos residents Leo and Lorene Beckstead, their first stop was the grocery store to buy fruits, vegetables and milk as they prepared to heed officials' request that returning residents remain home because of the firefighters battling the blaze the continues to burn north, south, and west of the town.
"They did a great job," Leo Beckstead said of the firefighters. "I think because of the Cerro Grande fire, they learned a lot."
IN PICTURES: New Mexico wildfires