A fast-moving wildfire broke out in northern New Mexico Sunday, June 26, and has led to voluntary evacuations for the city of Los Alamos, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory. If that name rings a bell, Los Alamos was the site where the world’s first atomic bomb was developed.

The Las Conchas Fire began Sunday afternoon, about 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos. The blaze has burned more than 3,500 acres, and is endangering one of the nation’s key nuclear weapons laboratories, along with the nearby communities. Authorities have said that the fire was rapidly advancing toward the National Laboratory, but had not yet reached lab property.

The high winds and bone-dry conditions have turned this New Mexico fire into something complex and difficult to combat. Fire crews are currently battling 41 large wildfires in the United States, which have charred more than 1.4 million acres in the past few weeks.
What should you do if you get caught in the path of a wildfire?

The answer to that question depends on whether you are at home or driving.

First off, if you are at home, you’ll want to leave as soon as you are instructed to do so. Don’t try to gather up everything. Don’t try to spray your house with a garden hose. Just go! When conditions are dry, keep an ear on the local radio and TV stations so that you will hear the news, alerts and evacuation notices when they happen. Have a couple evacuation routes planned ahead of time. Try to head toward water, or better yet, get to the other side of a body of water and away from the fire.

If you are driving, you should move as quickly and safely as you can away from the fire. Knowing which way the wind is blowing can help you, as the fire will likely be going that way. Drive away from the fire and try to veer off across the wind to get out of harm’s way. The prevailing wind blows west to east in the northern hemisphere, so drive northeast or southeast to get away from a fire following the main weather pattern. Be aware that odd weather patterns and local geography can have a major impact on airflow. Always keep one eye on the smoke, as it will show you where the fire is.

Photo by: John H. Kim on Flickr.