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Los Alamos fire could become the largest in New Mexico history

Big fires have happened before in New Mexico, but scientists see a recent pattern that may be the most severe since the last Ice Age. Among the causes: fuel buildup due to fire suppression, a decline in the annual snowpack, and warmer climate.

The Las Conchas Fire burns through a canyon June 29 in Los Alamos, N.M. The government sent a plane equipped with radiation monitors over the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory Wednesday as a 110-square-mile wildfire burned at the lab's doorstep, putting thousands of scientific experiments on hold for days.

Morgan Petroski/The Albuquerque Journal/AP

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The Las Conchas fire, burning its way through the mountains and canyons around Los Alamos, N.M., is about to join Arizona’s Wallow fire as a state record-breaker.

As of noon local time Thursday, the Las Conchas blaze had consumed 92,710 acres near the city of Los Alamos and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's three nuclear-weapons labs. That's roughly 23,000 acres more than the fire had claimed Wednesday. Most of the additional growth in the past day came as the western section of the fire, driven by southerly winds, moved north from the Los Alamos area.

By midday Friday, Las Conchas is expected to capture the dubious title of largest single forest fire on record in the state. The previous record-holder was the Dry Lakes fire, which burned 94,000 acres near the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico in 2003.

Combined with another fire in the Gila National Forest that ignited this past April and burned nearly 90,000 acres, three of the state's largest forest fires have occurred within the past 10 years, according to data from the forestry division of the state's Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department.

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