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Facing wildfire threat, Los Alamos National Lab closes

Government research lab is home to IBM Roadrunner, first system to break petaflop barrier

The Los Alamos National Laboratory complex in New Mexico was closed Monday as an advancing wildfire threatened the U.S. Department of Energy research facility.

In an update posted on the lab's Web site at 8:20 a.m. MDT (10:20 EDT), Lab officials said that winds from the northwest have kept the fire from advancing on Lab property, "but forecasts call for a change by midday."

The threat is coming from the Las Conchas wildfire that began at about 1 p.m. Sunday on private land approximately 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos, according to the Incident Information System , an interagency reporting system.

The lab houses some of the world's most powerful supercomputers, including IBM's $100 million Roadrunner supercomputer that began running in 2008.

Roadrunner was the first system in the world to reach a petaflop performance, or one thousand trillion (one quadrillion) sustained floating point operations per second.

In a statement, the lab said that "observation aircraft are currently conducting aerial surveys to gauge the fire's growth and current size. Overnight, as a precaution, the Lab cut natural gas to technical areas in LANL's remote southwest area."

The lab also reported that "all hazardous and radioactive materials remain accounted for and are appropriately protected, as are key Lab facilities such as its proton accelerator and supercomputing centers."

"It's been a very long night for the fire crews," said Lab Director Charles McMillan in a statement. "There has been an outpouring of support from the region, the state and the federal government and for that we are profoundly grateful."

According to a twitter stream from KOB4, a local television news station and its reporters, including @GadiRoget, the fire as of 10 a.m. EDT had not breached lab property. More than 43,000 acres are involved.

A Webcam of nearby ski areas shows a large area dense with smoke.

To follow the fire on Twitter, hashtags in use include: #nmfire #losalamos #lanl #conchas.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

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