Los Alamos evacuation order lifted; 12,000 go home

Posted July 03, 2011, at 8:45 p.m.

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

Residents rolled into town, 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 last week as the fast-moving fire approached the city and its nuclear laboratory.

The town was last evacuated because of a devastating fire in 2000 that destroyed 200 homes and several businesses and damaged utilities and other county enterprises. This time, residents returned to a town that is completely intact, although the fire scorched 63 homes west of town.

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