Energy officials say they are taking down a charred 260-foot wind turbine to determine the cause of a fire that began Sunday evening in a rural area west of U.S. 277 and County Road 618, the second turbine blaze to hit the area in the past six weeks.
Sunday’s fire occurred less than a five-minute walk from the country home of state Rep. Susan King.
In an interview with the Reporter-News, King said the fire lit up “like the Paramount sign,” and was akin to a “Roman candle, with balls of fire flying out and onto the ground.”
She said she and her husband, Dr. Austin King, were just about to return to Abilene around 10:30 p.m. that night when they saw the fire erupt and reported it to authorities.
Volunteer firefighters from the Elm Creek Citizens Association, Buffalo Gap and View worked to put out the blaze, which fire officials said sparked a grass fire.
The fire on the wind turbine itself was not able to be extinguished because of its height, said ECCA Fire Chief Gary Young.
Young said firefighters faced hazardous conditions as the turbine began scattering debris on the ground.
“I would gather that the turbine was spraying out debris up to three football fields,” Young said. “Especially in an area like that, it was challenging because of the rough terrain. By nature, those are not good conditions for a fire.”
Young said fire crews remained on the scene until 4 a.m. to ensure that no flare-ups would occur under cedar trees, which are known to build a carpet of needles on the ground.
The fire is the second in the past six weeks in the Callahan Divide wind farm, which contains 74 turbines.
A previous blaze was reported Aug. 25 in the same area.
A spokesman for NextEra Energy, the company that owns the turbines, called the fires unusual.
“We have had two fires in a relatively short period of time,” said Steve Stengel, the NextEra representative. “Fires of this nature are very unusual. This week we expect to have a crane at the facility to take down the turbines to try to finalize things.”
Stengel said that after the turbines are down, the company will be able to complete an investigation as to the cause of the fires.
The rest of the site, Stengel said, continues to operate.
He said on-site technicians regularly maintain the turbines.
The Callahan Divide Wind Energy Center went into service in 2005 and operates on a 6,000-acre site in Taylor County, roughly 12 miles southwest of Abilene.
Reporter-News Content Manager Greg Jaklewicz contributed to his report.