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Paint allowed INL to power through their largest fire ever

The Idaho National Laboratory site has a history of large wind-driven fires.

INL is always trying to find new methods to protect their infrastructure and one of their key tactics includes paint on a power pole

“Wildland fires are almost inevitable here, so we chose that minimize any power loss any damage to our infrastructure,” said INL Power Management manager, Kenneth Barnes.

In 2012 INL applied five feet of fire retardant paint on almost 3,000 of their power poles. That project proved its worth during the Sheep Fire this past July. The paint protected the power poles from the largest fire INL has ever experienced.

“In 2011 there was a significant fire here at the INL, (we) lost over sixty structures due to the fire. We did a ‘lesson learned’ from that and with support from the BLM, we tried to minimize the fire impact by using the fire retardant which is a latex, based paint on our power poles,” said Barnes.

The paint treatment costs $100 dollars per pole, which is an investment INL is willing to make since the replacement cost of a whole power pole structure is around $3,000 to $5,000 dollars.

“What happens to a wildland fire, is the fire goes through and even though the flames are up higher, most of the fuel and the sparks and ashes are down lower and so a lot of that catches in the cracks or if there were cracks it would catch in the cracks and then start the pole on fire. If you protect from that level down the flames can’t really start a fire above that height,” said Barnes.

INL power structures provide power to 9 different campuses at INL, a couple of the campuses have operating reactors, and also deal with fuel storage and handling.

“We have a lot of important loads out here at the INL, maintaining a safe reliable power source is very important to these facilities,” said Barnes.

Over 112,000 acres were burned in the Sheep Fire, but thanks to the fire retardant paint the INL never lost power once or had any damage to their power poles.

Because of the success, more utility companies are starting to take an interest in the product.

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