By Barb Hauge
We have been deeply concerned about the safety of our youngest foster daughter, Ida Mae, and her family who moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico where Roy, who is a driller, was employed by the military to check out old nuclear sites for possible radiation. Although the fire storm began as a "controlled burn" of the Park Service, it became a holocaust of flame; burning high in towering pines as a "crown fire" while at the same time becoming a raging inferno in the brush below.
In attempting to locate the family, I got a series of run-arounds including the Red Cross who said they were too busy to answer. Finally Sen. Max Baucus' office put me in touch with American Field Office and faxed a list of Espanola shelters and phone numbers where the Los Alamos population found shelter. All but emergency phone service had been cut off. Then Ida Mae telephoned to let us know they were safe.
During the evacuation smoke was so thick and acrid it was difficult to breathe. Now the government/military is testing all evacuees for radiation and plutonium. Chemical laboratories were burning and the alarms that register release of dangerous materials were going off like crazy so there must have been a leak. Bunkers with all the nuclear stuff barely escaped the fire and for a time most of the firefighters and equipment were concentrated in that area. Had the fire penetrated those bunkers, it could have been worse than the Chernybol disaster in Russia.
Hundreds of beautiful homes, schools, businesses and laboratories were burned and it will be a huge project should the government/military decide if it's safe to rebuild. Many who had to be evacuated were elderly people who came to Los Alamos in the 1940s as young scientists to help the atomic physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, develop the horrible weapon which finally ended World War II.
Evacuees spent a lot of time in lines waiting for basic necessities like water, food, assignment to shelters and medical care. Elderly people were fainting from fatigue and grief, having lost the comfortable retirement they'd worked all their lives to achieve. Others were happy to still be alive and with their loved ones.
Los Alamos was a spaciously built, affluent community with well-financed, excellent schools. It was paradise in the pine trees with a backdrop of mountains and vast space. Los Alamos has always been under strict military control. You don't go driving or hiking without danger of being ordered to "Halt" with guns in your face. And stray pets have a way of disappearing into the labs and never being seen again. Even wildlife in the area is almost nonexistent.
Oppenheimer, Father of the Atomic Bomb, was aghast when Edward Teller pushed for development of the hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer agonized over this part in developing such ghastly weapons of war. He quoted from the Indian epic poem Bhagavad-Gita, "I Am Become Death, The Destroyer of Worlds!"