The Idaho National Laboratory and Bureau of Land Management learned something about mitigation during the 112,000 acre Sheep Fire this summer. Every power pole painted with a latex-based fire retardant paint survived.
Approximately 61 rights-of-way for transmission lines cross BLM lands near the INL site. Those lines provide electricity to multiple counties across eastern Idaho. Their wooden poles are particularly vulnerable during brush fires and there over 4,000 of them on INL property alone.
During the destructive 2010 and 2011 fire seasons, over 160,000 acres of BLM and INL lands burned. Power poles often burned and created safety issues and power outages. After losing 60 power poles in 2011, BLM got together with INL and power companies to talk about mitigation plans.
A proposal to use the fire retardant paint was implemented. The treatment costs about $100 per pole, but the replacement cost of a pole ranges from $1,200 to $2,500 each. Since 2011, INL painted 3,000 of its power poles 5 feet up from the ground. Even poles that had not been repainted since their initial coat in 2012 and 2013 survived this year’s fire.
As a result, INL and regional utilities kept power on the grid during the Sheep Fire.