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LOWER TOWNSHIP – Volunteer firefighters here in Villas are used to fighting structure fires involving houses that are ablaze. On Saturday night, they fought a structure fire in a wind turbine.
“When we arrived, there were obvious flames showing from the top of the windmill. The windmill was spinning ridiculously out of control,” Villas fire Chief Richard Harron Jr. said.
The out-of-control turbine was apparently sending a surge of electricity down the tower into electrical connections in the garage. Harron said the owner, later identified as Dennis Hasson, called it in as a fire in his garage on the 2000 block of Bay Drive.
Harron cleared several neighboring residences and pulled the electrical panel of the windmill. The fire extinguished on its own and firefighters did not have to use water or foam, he said. Firefighters are awaiting a report from the windmill company, JBS Solar and Wind, LLC, of North Cape May, on what caused the turbine to spin out of control, although Harron noted there were sustained winds that night of 15 to 25 mph.
“We certainly thought it was going to come down. It was kind of a unique situation for us to handle,” Harron said.
Windmills have brakes but Harron said this one may have been controlled by an electrical connection that failed. The electric surge destroyed electrical components of the system in the garage.
Township records show it is a 10-kilowatt windmill on a 97.5-foot tower. Even after the panel was pulled, Harron said the windmill continued generating electricity. The incident convinced him of the need to have some fire training for wind and solar-energy systems, which have electrical connections, he said.
“We’re going to set up training for local fire departments. It enlightened our eyes. The whole unit is electric. There are quite a few approved to be put up. They’re just not up yet,” Harron said.
Firefighters used a thermal imaging camera to make sure there was no fire inside the garage.
Township Council adopted a new ordinance beefing up windmill regulations just two years ago. A 1981 ordinance allowed them within 5 feet of property lines. The 2009 ordinance requires a setback of 15 feet plus the radius of the rotor.
JBS Solar and Wind could not be reached for comment Monday.
Robert Olivio, who markets Skystream wind systems and has one running at his Woodland Avenue home in Villas, said he thought something was wrong Sunday morning when saw the tail piece on the Bay Avenue turbine “was straight up in the air.” He said wind gusts hit 40 mph Saturday night.
Olivio said he has never had a problem with his system, which has been running for several years. He said he is concerned the incident may set back residential wind power.
“It takes an incident like this, which is probably operator error or installer error, to get more regulation on everybody,” Olivio said.
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