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Emergency response scaled back for Sheep Fire

UPDATE 4:50 p.m. The Sheep Fire at the Idaho National Laboratory desert site is sufficiently contained to scale back the emergency response, according to fire officials.

Crews will continue to monitor and work the perimeter until the fire has been completely extinguished with no remaining hot spots.

Officials say there was no radiological release to the environment, no risk to the public, no injuries and no damage to INL facilities during the fire.


UPDATE Thursday, July 25, 2019, 11:30 a.m.: Officials at the INL report there is no active burning visible at this time. Crews are working the perimeter of the fire to extend containment lines, they said.

They also changed the estimated time of containment to Friday evening, not tonight as reported earlier.


UPDATE Thursday, July 25, 2019, 8:45 a.m.: Officials said things are back to normal operations Thursday at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The Sheep Fire is estimated to be 60 percent contained Wednesday night and burned approximately 113,000 acres. Crews expect to have full containment today, they said.

They said the fire is no longer a threat to facilities at the research site and EBR-1 Museum will reopen on Thursday.

UPDATE: Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 5:00 p.m.

Officials are expecting to have the fire about fifty percent contained by Wednesday evening.

Early yesterday the fire had only consumed about 6,500 acres and that number has drastically risen to more than 100,000 acres.

“This is one of the most extreme erratic fires that I’ve experienced in my experience at the INL,” said INL Fire Chief, Eric Gosswiller.

What began from a lightning strike Monday evening has quickly become the largest fire that has impacted the Idaho National Laboratory, surpassing the size of the Jefferson Fire in 2010.

“The challenges with this fire is it moves very rapidly, it’s unpredictable, we had a lot of wind shifts,” said Gosswiller.

Crews have been working hard to contain the fire and although it’s expected to grow a few acres today, Gosswiller says they’re confident they will have more than half of the fire contained by the end of Wednesday and have it completely out by the end of the week.

“Basically, knowing the tactics we put in place and knowing what the perimeter fire conditions look like right now, as well as the anticipated weather conditions this afternoon. Putting all that into consideration, we’re confident that those lines are gonna do what we need them to do. We’re going to have a lot of defenses out there in case they don’t, but we’re very confident that’s going to happen.”

As a safety precaution all non-essential INL workers were asked to stay home Tuesday and Wednesday, but these days will not count against their PTO.

“The employees are not being asked to take leave, this will be a reimbursable cause that we provide to them…We believe that there is a high probability that we’ll be able to re-open the facilities tomorrow to start the day shift,” says INL’s chief operating officer, Juan Alvarez.

Although the fire has been challenging to contain, chief Gosswiller says, as far as the losses go, they’ve been able to prevent the fire from touching any of the INL buildings.

“Knock on wood, we’ve done a very good job with this fire, we haven’t lost anything, we have no injuries, and we have a good strategy to get things wrapped up.”

UPDATE: 3:25 pm

The Idaho National Laboratory expects to return to normal operations in the wake of the Sheep Fire Thursday.

A work curtailment continued Wednesday as a cautionary measure. Officials said the fire posed no immediate threat to key research facilities.

Rocky Mountain Power has begun to repair commercial power lines on the INL site that were damaged by the fire. That work will involve blasting lava rock to seat poles. Even so, power to the site remains unaffected by the fire or repairs.

Fluor Idaho resumed operations Wednesday at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project and the Accelerated Retrieval Project.

The Idaho National Laboratory reports the “Sheep” fire has been partially contained. It was estimated at 110,000 acres Wednesday morning.

Officials said it does not pose any immediate threat to key research facilities.

Commercial power throughout the area has not been affected by the fire.

INL, Fluor Idaho, and the Naval Reactors Facility are continuing to evaluate air quality, but has been within acceptable EPA guidelines. However, with a rating of “moderate”, smoke could create health problems for some people.

Routine radiological monitoring is also consistent with normal background levels.

INL explained the fire was called “Sheep” fire because it started near a dirt access road called “Sheep Road.”

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