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Raging New Mexico Wildfires Push Firefighters Into RetreatAired May 11, 2000 - 7:01 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a massive fire in northern New Mexico so devastating it has firefighters in retreat. It is burning homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. And the situation with this out-of-control fire is not expected to improve. A high wind forecast is in effect. Gusts up to 60 miles an hour are expected today. Even sustained winds will hit 35 to 45 miles an hour.
Officials have ordered three communities evacuated in this fire's path: Los Alamos, white rock, and Espanola.
CNN's Greg LaMotte brings us more on this raging fire that is burning at a very fast rates.
GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dozens of homes destroyed, hundreds more threatened as wind-whipped fires continue to roll into Los Alamos, New Mexico.
GOV. GARY JOHNSON (R), NEW MEXICO: This is really an act of nature here, Mother Nature gone awry, and all the resources in the world would not have prevented what happened here this afternoon.
LAMOTTE: As many as 13,000 people have been evacuated, virtually the entire population of the town that's also home to the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. Officials there say the buildings housing nuclear material are fireproof.
The night sky was lit up by the thousands of acres that are burning so ferociously in some places, even firefighters were forced to evacuate neighborhoods blazing away.
President Clinton has declared a state of emergency in three New Mexico counties. The situation for those waging the battle against the flames may worsen. Wind gusts of 60 miles per hour and stronger are forecast for the area today. Nearby towns, including Espanola, are being evacuated. And unless firefighters catch a break from the fast-moving winds, thousands of homes will be threatened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been watching TV and watching fires burn, and I've seen a couple of my neighbors' houses going up in flames. My house is only two or three houses down from that, so I'm very concerned that mine is going to be one of them if it's not already burning now. LAMOTTE: National Guardsmen are aiding in the evacuations that include the Los Alamos Medical Center. Patients from that hospital were taken to medical facilities in neighboring communities.
Ironically, these out-of-control fires are the result of a controlled burn gone bad. Last week, the National Park Service was attempting to burn away about 300 acres of brush when winds whipped the fires out of control.
Greg LaMotte, CNN, Los Alamos, New Mexico.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And let's go to Los Alamos right now, and to Greg LaMotte who's on the phone.
Greg, what's going on right now?
LAMOTTE: Well, about 18,000 residents from three different communities have been evacuated. Many of them, Leon, and you might imagine, extraordinarily angry and upset because their homes have either been destroyed, burned or threatened by a fire that started as the result of a controlled burn intended to get rid of that brush. That controlled burn went out of control.
The winds right now are changing direction so quickly, some homes and neighborhoods that we've seen have been completely destroyed, while ones right next door were left untouched. There are downed power lines everywhere, making it that much more difficult for the firefighters.
From our vantage point, we've seen huge flames, possibly as high as 100 feet in the air. The smoke at times is choking. There's ash flying everywhere. And if you're not careful, that ash will go directly into your eyes.
The news for later today is worse: Winds are expected to gust, and that means that the fires will undoubtedly spread, and any aerial attacks with fire retardant and water will become impossible.
Most of the folks who have been evacuated from Los Alamos, White Rock and Espanola have either gone to hotels in Santa Fe, about 20 miles away; many have gone to the local high school there. About 800 firefighters are involved in the battle against this huge fire. Local police have set up perimeters around the neighborhoods to keep people out. The National Guard is aiding in the evacuations. President Clinton has declared three counties disaster areas.
If the winds continue -- and they are expected to -- this could prove to be one of the worst fires, in terms of damage, in recent memory -- Leon.
HARRIS: All right, Greg LaMotte, reporting live this morning on the telephone from Los Alamos, New Mexico.
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