INEEL wildfire contained; no radiation leaks, spokesman says
Fire danger extremely high in Idaho
"We know were going to have fires. Its not a question
of if. Its a question of when and where. So we have to be good at
protecting facilities. Its what we do."
-Brad Bugger, INEEL spokesman
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
The unmistakable haze of nearby wildfires settled over the Wood River
Valley last week as a fire at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory
(INEEL) and one in the Sawtooth Wilderness Area ripped through south-central Idahos
dry summer tinder.
Thirteen fires were reported burning across Idaho on Sunday, including the
massive 74,000-acre Clear Creek fire near Salmon.
The INEEL brush fire was declared contained at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon,
and the Sawtooth Wilderness fire, called the Benedict Fire, was contained at 6 p.m. Friday
On Friday, crews gained the upper hand fighting the 18,000-acre wildfire
that had forced the evacuation of hundreds of INEEL employees, according to an INEEL
spokesman, Brad Bugger.
No one was injured and no radiation release was detected at the
890-square-mile compound, Bugger said in a Monday telephone conversation.
On Thursday, some 1,800 workers had been ordered out of three buildings at
the nuclear research and storage facility. It was the third time this year that a fire has
threatened one of the nations nuclear facilities.
Bugger said there have been over 40 fires on the INEEL in the past five
"We know were going to have fires. Its not a question of
if. Its a question of when and where. So we have to be good at
protecting facilities. Its what we do," he said.
Bugger said INEEL officials constructed "fire breaks"areas
around facilities that are bereft of vegetationto help protect from wildfires
earlier this summer.
"We knew the fire danger was very high," he said. "We
cleared vegetation around the facilities."
Decreasing winds over Thursday night quelled the invading flames, and by
Friday morning, only 50 firefighters were on the scene in eastern Idaho, putting out a few
remaining hot spots.
Workers were allowed back on the job Friday, and INEEL officials declared
the fire fully contained at 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
Bugger said the fire did not burn any ground where there is nuclear waste
buried. But that scenario is a possibility, he said.
"Theres always a possibility," he said.
The 25-acre Benedict Fire in the Sawtooth Wilderness is being attributed
to careless persons in the area. Had the fire been naturally ignited, it would have been
left to take its natural course under the forests wilderness burn policy.
The fire started alongside a trail, and people were seen leaving the area
just prior to the fire being reported, according to a Sawtooth National Forest press
The fire danger remains extreme in southern and central Idaho, and fire
restrictions remain in effect. Campfires are restricted to developed recreation sites,
except for fires fueled by liquid petroleum, and smoking is not allowed unless in an
enclosed vehicle or home or in a three-foot clear area.
Idahos fires were among about 50 fires burning more than 5,000 acres
across the nation Sunday, the National Fire Information Center reported.
In the West, wildfires continued to burn in Montana, Nevada, Colorado,
Utah, Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico.