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A vast wildfire has been burning around the United States’ research plant where the first atomic bomb was developed. The science lab is one of the world’s biggest. Los Alamos National Laboratory in the state of New Mexico has the country’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal. In a constantly changing situation on Monday, buildings were not touched by flame, and authorities said the threat was low.

The fire started in the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, to the west, in neighbouring Arizona — the biggest fire that state has ever had.

Los Alamos fire chief Doug Tucker said: “This fire is not going to go out today. This fire will be here a while. I do not think it’s going to be a Wallow fire but it has potential to double, triple its size. I hope it doesn’t. We’ve already lost a lot of homes in the Cochiti area and in the Tent area, and I don’t want to see it happen again.”

The town of Los Alamos, population 12,000, was evacuated. A spokesman said the lab is well protected, though a wildfire there 11 years ago caused around a billion dollars in damage. Explosive materials are kept in deep bunkers but plutonium waste lies above ground.

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