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Los Alamos evacuation order lifted allowing 12,000 to return home

Although the threat to Los Alamos and the nation's premier nuclear research lab has passed, the mammoth wildfire raging in northern New Mexico still threatens sacred sites of American Indian tribes.

Denise Lane, center, owner of the Hill Diner in Los Alamos, and volunteer waitress Martha Waters, right, speak with firefighters. The Hill Diner has provided 1200 meals a day to firefighters, emergency workers, and the media free of charge.

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A smattering of summer rain gave a boost to firefighters battling a huge forest fire near Los Alamos, N.M. giving authorities enough confidence to allow about 12,000 people to return home for the first time in nearly a week.

Residents rolled into town Sunday morning, honking their horns and waving to firefighters as the word got out that the roadblocks were lifted and the narrow two lane highway cut into the side of a mesa leading to Los Alamos was open. They had fled en masse on Monday as the fast-moving fire approached the city and its nuclear laboratory.

"Thank, you! Thank, You! Thank, you!," yelled Amy Riehl, an assistant manager at the Smith's grocery store as she arrived in Los Alamos to help keep the store open for returning residents.

IN PICTURES: New Mexico wildfires

"It's scary, but all of the resources here this time, they were ready. They did a magnificent job," said Michael Shields, eyes tearing up as he returned home to his apartment in the heart of the town.

The town was last evacuated because of the 2000 Cerro Grande fire. That time, residents returned to a town that had lost 200 homes, several businesses and had to cope with damaged utilities and other county enterprises. This time around, residents were returning to a town that is completely intact, although the fire destroyed 63 homes west of town.

Although the threat to Los Alamos and the nation's premier nuclear research lab had passed, the mammoth wildfire raging in northern New Mexico was still threatening sacred sites of American Indian tribes.

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