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Most INL operations curtailed Wednesday as Sheep Fire grows

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Courtesy Kristin Palmer

UPDATE 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

As a result of the Sheep Fire, operations for non-essential staff have been curtailed for all Idaho National Laboratory Site facilities except the Specific Manufacturing Capability and the Radioactive Waste Management Complex for Wednesday, July 24. Employees should watch for lab communications about other potential curtailments to Site facilities.

WATCH: INL holds news conference on Sheep Fire

No injuries have resulted from the fire but wind conditions remain a challenge. Monitoring for air quality is ongoing at all Site facilities.

Routine radiological monitoring at all Site locations is consistent with normal background levels.

Fire officials estimate more than 90,000 acres have burned. Bureau of Land Management and INL fire crews supported by other collaborating municipalities are working together to fight the fire.

Stay with EastIdahoNews.com for updates.

ORIGINAL STORY

ARCO — With hot southwestern winds pushing it along and dry grass and brush for fuel, the Sheep Fire has consumed thousands of acres in a matter of hours.

The 90,000-acre fire has come near multiple Idaho National Laboratory facilities prompting evacuations of all nonessential personnel. However, officials are not concerned about the facilities themselves.

“We have specific perimeters around the facilities to protect from a fire being able to penetrate. And we are also dedicating firefighting efforts to ensure that they are able to stop the fire before it gets (too) close,” INL Chief Operations Officer Juan Alvarez said.

There isn’t an estimate on when employees will return to work. Fire officials will continue to monitor the fire, and employees will be notified when it’s safe to return to work.

“The general public can feel safe because the firefighting has been kept to the grass areas of the Idaho National Lab,” Alvarez said.

Officials say they are also monitoring radiation levels. So far, there is no risk to the public.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Idaho Falls District Bureau of Land Management Fire Management Officer Joel Gosswiller said firefighters hope winds will switch and push the fire back north onto itself.

“A lot of erratic winds last night pushed it pretty hard to the south and southwest,” Gosswiller said.

Gosswiller said due to the continuing winds, they have not been able to estimate how much of the fire has been contained.

“Currently on the fire, there are four dozers, 15 engines and water tenders with an additional dozer and two strike teams of engines coming,” Gosswiller said.

The Idaho Falls Fire Department has contributed a heavy and a light brush truck to help with containment.

A lightning strike ignited the Sheep Fire around 6:30 p.m. Monday. It quickly grew to the current 90,000 acres.

This isn’t the first time a wildfire has blazed across INL land. The largest fire in INL history was the Jefferson Fire, which burned 109,000 acres. Since then, the last major fire was the 2012 Midway Fire, which burned roughly 8,000 acres.

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