Subj: WEATHER SERVICE SAYS IT WARNED
PARK SERVICE AGAINST CONTROLLED
Date: 5/11/00 1:28:52 PM Pacific Daylight Time
GOOD COVERAGE-LOS ALAMOS....DOING A GREAT JOB...Here's one you might
Confirmation that the park sevice was warned by WEather Service Against
SURFING THE APOCALYPSE
MORE FLEE NEW MEXICO FIRE
Weather Service Says It Warned Park Service Against Controlled Burn
President Authorizes FEMA Assistance
Residents Evacuated; Los Alamos Homes Burn
LOS ALAMOS, N.M and WASHINGTON
(CBS) Before the fire that ravaged Los Alamos was started last week, the
National Park Service was sent a forecast of higher winds, higher
temperatures, reduced humidity and maximum conditions for a spreading
fire just west of the town.
The Park Service started its fire last Thursday at Bandelier National
Monument. Last Friday, the fire burned outside the 900-acre perimeter
that had been designated for the fire.
A firestorm swept through the abandoned streets of Los Alamos Thursday,
while frustrated firefighters ran short of water and were forced to
retreat. New Mexico Rep. Tom Udall reported that federal officials had
told him him 300-400 homes had been damaged in Los Alamos.
At least 18,000 people were evacuated from Los Alamos, including 7,000
in suburban White Rock Thusday morning.
With the federal government at least partly to blame, the president is
offering his sympathies to those in New Mexico who have lost their homes
to the fires, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
In an exchange with reporters, he said he does not yet know the facts
about federal liability - even though it's acknowledged the fires began
with a controlled burn by the National Park Service.
"The rule here ought to be the 'do-right' rule," he said. "Whatever the
right thing to do is is exactly what should be done."
The president said that when it comes to rebuilding, he will bend over
backwards to do the right thing for those who suffered losses.
"Right now we should be focusing on doing everything we can to minimize
the damage of the fire and protect the lab assets, deal with the human
problem," Mr. Clinton said.
The Santa Fe chapter of the Red Cross has about 50 people in a shelter
in that city, and another 60 in shelters in Pojaque.
"Everybody is kind of quiet," acting director Melanie Darling said.
"They are very tired."
Darling says a major challenge is taking care of pets.
"If people have animals we're trying to hook them up with people in the
area willing to board their animals while people are in the shelters,"
she told CBS Radio News.
A research building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory was singed but
did not burn. Explosives and radioactive material were protected in
fireproof facilities, lab officials said.
"We can assure the country and New Mexico that our nuclear materials are
safe," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a former New Mexico
On Monday, park Superintendent Roy Weaver acknowledged his
responsibility for the blaze, saying he believed that conditions were
optimal for a prescribed burn. After the fire erupted into Los Alamos
neighborhoods on Wednesday, Weaver told CNN he never saw the National
Weather Service forecast.
The Associated Press, which couldn't reach Weaver for comment, obtained
a copy of the special weather forecast Wednesday.
"This is the worst of circumstance, I mean, you couldn't script anything
worse," Gov. Gary Johnson told CBS News. "The numbers that are floating
around here are that a lot of Los Alamos is going to be lost to this."
The raging wild fires led President Clinton Wednesday to declare Los
Alamos a disaster area, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management
Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
Earlier, strong winds drove the week-old fire into Los Alamos Canyon,
forcing the evacuation of all 11,500 residents from a nearby town, and
there were reports of structures in the town burning.
State Forestry Division spokeswoman Terri Wildermuth said she didn't
know how many homes are burning or where they are located.
As officials moved in to help the residents get out, panic set in, and a
thick blanket of smoke and ash wrapped itself around the town, reports
CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher.
"I'm scared to death," said one evacuating resident.
National Weather Service supervisory meteorologist Charlie Liles said
his staff in Albuquerque faxed the 12:20 p.m. forecast to the park
before the fire was started last Thursday. Liles said his office had
received a request for it from Bandelier at 11:35 a.m. that day.
The forecast told park officials there was a maximum potential for fire
growth, that winds were about to increase, temperatures were about to
rise and that the potential for the usual increase in nighttime humidity
was diminished - in short, a blueprint for a spreading fire.
"We provide the weather forecasts. We're not the fire behavior
specialists here," Liles said Wednesday.
The special Bandelier forecast was headlined: "6 HAINES INDEX THROUGH
FRIDAY WITH POOR NIGHTTIME RH RECOVERY..."
RH is relative humidity.
The Haines Index is a "measure of stability of atmosphere and potential
for fire growth," Liles said. "It ranges from zero to six."
"Six is the maximum, which means a potential for fire growth is high,"
Liles said his office figured park officials were planning a prescribed
"We had been coordinating with them for several days, discussing the
situation," Liles said.
While the Weather Service advises the public of fire danger in more
general forecasts, it does not spell out "fire danger" in a forecast for
a special customer like the Park Service, Liles said, although he said
"if the customer asked for it, I think we might be more proactive" about
giving such signals.
"It's really the fire behavior specialist out there who should be in the
best position [to make the call]," Liles said.
U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the
controlled burn would be the focus of post-fire questions.
"Obviously, this [May 4] weather report raises serious questions about
how decisions were made to go ahead with the controlled burn," Bingaman
said by phone from Washington, D.C. "I think the fact the Forest Service
had decided not to proceed with any controlled burns that Friday also
reinforces questions that we need to be asking once all of this crisis
is behind us."
Tom Zimmerman, a National Park Service fire science and ecology program
leader at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said the
Bandelier fire "experienced some severe wind events that were not
totally forecasted" and "that was the variable that killed us on this
"We're pretty set that our prescribed fire procedures are sound,"
Zimmerman said. "We've been dealing with prescribed fire for over 20
years. We've had two federal fire policy reviews since 1988, and these
have confirmed it's a sound complement to the fire management program."
Domenici said: "Any fire of this magnitude that moves from a place like
Bandelier as close to Los Alamos and has this kind of a burn, we have to
ask: How did all this happen?"
"I am not passing judgment," he said, "but I am led to believe that
there was less than concurrence on the part of experts that this
controlled fire should have been started at all."
However, he commended the firefighting and evacuation effort, which he
said went very well.
"None of this would be happening if it weren't for a controlled burn
that's now obviously way out of control," the governor told CBS Radio
Evacuees had mixed feelings.
John Brackbill, 27, expressed frustration over the controlled burn.
"I think this is a lesson in what not to do," he said. "The thing that
got me is that they expected the winds to be bad, but they went ahead
with the burn anyway."
Domenici said the federal government will do whatever it can to defeat
the fire and ease the plight of its victims.
Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt planned to
tour the fire zone Thursday with Bingaman and Domenici.
Domenici said of Witt: "He has informed me and others that whatever has
to be done is being done, whatever is needed is being provided. When we
need to do more, we will do it."
"In the meantime we have to hope and pray that nature changes its course
and the winds subside."
He said if winds continue unabated, it might be four days before the
fire can be controlled.
"They're saying the winds tomorrow will be worse," Domenici said.
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