The fire department at the Idaho National Laboratory, also known as INL, is undertaking proactive measures to ensure the safety of people, property and the environment as it prepares for the 2023 wildland fire season.

As summer approaches, the INL Fire Department conducts a thorough review of procedures and analyzes past fire incidents to enhance its readiness for wildland fires at the desert site.

Implemented fire precautions at INL include roadside mowing in fire-prone areas and improving fire buffers and defensible spaces around vulnerable structures. The Department also collaborates closely with regional firefighting agencies and is developing plans for constructing fuel management zones to reduce the risk of large fires.

INL Fire Chief Jim Blair expressed his concerns about the upcoming fire season.

“With increased winter and spring precipitation, coupled with carryover fuels from a relatively inactive 2022 fire season locally, this could potentially be an active 2023 fire season for most of the Great Basin,” Blair said. “We have observed new fuel growth at the INL Site.”

Equipped with extensive training in wildland firefighting, the INL Fire Department maintains a team of 22 firefighters on duty at all times. The Department can summon off-duty employees, increasing the force to 75 if required. To address significant emergencies, INL has established agreements with regional fire departments and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, enabling mutual assistance during fire outbreaks and providing vital support during prolonged fire emergencies.

Education plays a vital role in INL’s firefighting efforts. While lightning strikes cannot be prevented, INL employees are provided information on fire risks and necessary precautions. During periods of elevated fire danger, off-road vehicles and work activities are restricted to minimize fire risks.

“It is our responsibility to reduce the likelihood of fires starting on INL-managed land, and our focus needs to be on preventing human-caused fires,” Blair said. “If we do experience a fire at INL, we will aggressively battle it to minimize acres burned.”

Since 1994, the INL site has averaged five fires annually, scorching about 14,000 acres in total. Despite these incidents, INL has successfully averted significant damage to its facilities. Defensible buffer zones, with minimal or no fire fuel, surround important buildings and facility complexes, providing an additional layer of protection.