July 1, 2011 - Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico

Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico

On June 29, 2011, the Las Conchas Fire burned near the city of Los Alamos, New Mexico and skirted the western edge of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer passed over the region at 17:30 UTC (11:30 a.m. MDT) and captured this true-color image of the thick plume of gray smoke blowing to the northeast from the blaze as well as multiple hotspots (marked by red boxes) that indicate areas of high temperatures associated with actively burning fire.

The blaze erupted on June 26 in the mountains southwest of Los Alamos and then, stoked by strong winds, dry conditions, and high winds, spread vigorously. By June 27 the fire had consumed 49,000 acres and reached the southern border of the 28,000 acres belonging to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Early fire-fighting efforts included creating controlled back-burns from the property line of LANL towards the blaze. This strategy is designed to rob the expanding fire of fuel and prevent spread into the property. At the same time, laboratory personnel began mowing and watering vegetation in an effort to reduce burnable fuel. On the same day, the city of Los Alamos began evacuation, and LANL closed the property to all but essential employees.

By June 30, the fire had expanded 92,735 acres, bringing it very close to becoming New Mexico’s largest recorded wildfire. The fire currently holding that distinction is the Dry Lakes Fire, which consumed more than 94,000 acres of the Gila National Forest in 2003. In comparison, the Wallow Fire, the largest blaze in Arizona history, has scorched 538,000 acres since ignition on May 29 of this year. That fire is still burning, but is now 95% contained.

The Las Conchas Fire was reported to be only 3% contained on the evening of June 30. Because of continuing high temperatures, low humidity and blowing winds (reported at 20 mph), conditions are favorable for growth.

Image Facts
Satellite: Terra
Date Acquired: 6/29/2011
Resolutions: 1km ( B), 500m ( B), 250m ( B)
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC