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Idaho National Laboratory prepares for 2023 fire season

May 25, 2023

By INL Media Relations

INL News Release
May 25, 2023  

Sarah Neumann, 208-526-0490, [email protected]
Lori McNamara, 208-520-6066[email protected]

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – The fire department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory is preparing for the 2023 wildland fire season. Before each summer fire season, the INL Fire Department reviews its procedures and lessons learned from previous fires. This ensures firefighters are prepared to protect people, property and the environment at the desert Site from wildland fires.  

INL’s fire precautions include roadside mowing, especially in areas prone to fires, improving fire buffers – or defensible spaces – around at-risk structures, and coordinating with regional firefighting agencies. In addition, INL is creating plans to construct fuel management zones intended to reduce the potential for large fires. 

“With the increased winter and spring precipitation, coupled with carry-over fuels from a relatively inactive 2022 fire season locally, this could potentially be an active 2023 fire season for most of the Great Basin,” INL Fire Chief Jim Blair said. “We have observed new fuel growth at the INL Site. I expect that the fuels will begin to cure in the coming weeks and will be ripe for fire development by the beginning of July.” 

INL has a highly trained fire department with extensive wildland firefighting experience. Twenty-two firefighters are on duty at all times, and the department can recall off-duty employees to bring its force up to 75 if needed. For large emergencies, INL has agreements with regional fire departments and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The agreements allow agencies to assist one another when fires break out and provide essential support during extended fire emergencies.  

As always, education is an important part of the firefighting effort. While lightning can’t be avoided, INL employees are informed about high fire potential and precautions they need to take. INL restricts off-road vehicles and off-road work activities in times of elevated fire danger.  

“It is our responsibility to reduce the likelihood of fires starting on INL managed land and our focus needs to be on preventing human-caused fires,” Blair said. “If we do experience a fire at INL, we will aggressively battle it to minimize acres burned.” 

Since 1994, the INL Site has averaged five fires that burned approximately 14,000 acres a year. Throughout this period, INL has avoided significant facility damage. Defensible buffer zones containing little or no fire fuel exist around all major buildings and facility complexes. 

Additional background Information: 

The INL Fire Department has three stations on the desert Site, each equipped with wildland firefighting equipment. The department maintains three heavy Type 4 wildland fire engines that are capable of driving over rough terrain, one Type 1 tactical tender that is capable of carrying 2,000 gallons of water and is a workhouse built for difficult terrain, one Type 6 wildland engine, and a Type 2 water tender that is capable of carrying 3,000 gallons of water, as well as multiple SUVs and pickups. Additional mobile water supplies are available via the INL heavy equipment pool. 

INL’s electrical power loop is redundant, allowing power to be redirected during wildland fires. Power poles are protected with either fire-resistant paint or mesh wrap. Major INL facilities have emergency backup power supplies.  

Radiological facilities and important buildings are protected by natural and constructed firebreaks, widespread use of noncombustible construction materials, reliable water supplies and automatic fire suppression systems.  

The INL Emergency Operations Center in Idaho Falls and emergency control centers at each Site facility maintain trained teams able to communicate in real time with firefighters. 

Additional resources: If more equipment and/or workers are needed, INL has reciprocal firefighting agreements with 37 regional fire and sheriff agencies that can be activated for assistance. INL also maintains an interagency agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Idaho Falls District to provide aircraft, firefighting personnel and equipment to support large fires at the INL Site. 

INL has added a new site-on-wheels (SOW) communications trailer that adds range and connectivity to communications in remote and rugged locations during an emergency. 

About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted May 25, 2023

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