Idaho nuclear research site shuts down some operations because of wildfire

The public has not been threatened as the 90,000-acre blaze burns near the Idaho National Laboratory, officials said.

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By Phil Helsel

A brush fire that has burned about 90,000 acres in Idaho has curtailed much of the staff at one of the nation's leading nuclear research facilities, officials said Tuesday.

No injuries have been reported, and there has been no damage or threats to buildings at the Idaho National Laboratory since the fire was sparked in grassland near the center about 6:30 p.m. Monday.

"The public has not been threatened at all," Juan Alvarez, chief operations officer for the national lab, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"Fires this time of the year is something that we expect and prepare for," he said.

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Routine radiological monitoring at the site has remained consistent with normal levels, the laboratory said in an update on its website Tuesday night.

The fire has burned desert near the center of the 890-square mile property, the Associated Press reported.

All of the facilities at the national lab have security fencing with a built-in fire break for protection in "just this kind of a situation," said Joseph Campbell, public information director for emergency operations center at the lab.

A spokesman for the national lab told NBC affiliate KTVB of Boise that the fire seemed to be moving toward the center of the site where there are no buildings.

When the fire broke out, thunderstorms were moving through the area with erratic winds that helped fan the blaze, according to Joel Gosswiller, fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

The Idaho National Laboratory is billed as the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development.

The Sheep Fire, so named because it started near a dirt access road called Sheep Road, is one of several wildfires burning in Idaho, including the Canyon Fire in the Boise National Forest and the Shady Fire in the in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Canyon Fire, which broke out July 14 and has burned around 324 acres, was 32 percent contained Tuesday, and the Shady Fire, which started July 10, was at a little more than 1,300 acres Tuesday. Both were caused by lightning.