USA — The INL (Idaho Nuclear Laboratory) has been keeping track of wildland fires on INL land since 1994. According to the numbers, this fire is the biggest ever recorded at 109-thousand acres of land burned.
There have been big fires near the INL before, but nothing of this magnitude. Just to give you some perspective, the average amount of acres burned per year since they started counting is only 10,500 acres. This fire alone is 10 times that yearly average.
“We prepare for situations like this, we have an average of 7 fires a year, so a lot of the employees they expect this,” said Reuel Smith, an INL Spokesman.
Every time a wildfire starts, the INL monitors radioactivity in the air. And with Tuesday’s winds upwards of 55 miles per hour, smoke went all across Eastern Idaho.
“Initially I thought it was going to rain, and then I realized it was smoke,” said Melody Johnson.)
“They don’t want to have another environmental hazard out here,” said Smith.
Much of that hazard is dampened by the buildings being made of non-combustible materials, such as concrete and steel. The INL has 75 trained wildland firefighters, with 22 on duty at all times.
“What sort of precautions have you been taking as well as the firefighters you’ve seen?” I asked.
“we’ve been busy all day since this thing broke. We have people surveying the whole situation from the air from the land. We have communication centers at the site and in Idaho Falls. We’ve notified everyone up and down the valley. All the political entities,” said Smith.
Since the INL is a nuclear facility…a lot of people wonder if they take a different approach to fighting fires. But they say no…the INL’s wildland firefighting tactics are essentially the same as those used by the Bureau of Land Management and other wildland fire management agencies.
What sort of danger does radioactive contamination pose to firefighters, or even the public? The INL says no matter where on the INL site a fire burns, there is no significant risk of radiological or chemical releases. So the risk is very low.