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Blaze in battery warehouse shuts down Oahu wind farm; Second fire in two years at First Wind facility

HONOLULU – Firefighters were forced to fight a burning building without water on the North Shore Wednesday, when a battery warehouse at an Oahu wind farm went up in flames.

The battery warehouse caught on fire at the First Wind wind farm for the second time in two years. But unlike last year’s small fire, the latest blaze shut down the wind farm’s huge turbines.

Smoke poured from the First Wind facility before five in the morning.

“The fire was out of control when we got to it,” said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig.

On fire was the 10,000 square foot battery warehouse, where electricity is stored from the farm’s dozen wind turbines. The flames caused the burning batteries to release toxic smoke, creating a challenge for emergency crews called in to fight the fire.

“This was a very dangerous environment to fight a fire in because of the confined warehouse. There were small isles with racks of batteries, small enough that it makes it difficult to maneuver – much less shoot water on them,” said Seelig.

In fact, fire crews did not spray water on the burning batteries, which would have created a lot of toxic runoff but would had very little effect on the electrical fire. Instead, they brought in a thousand pounds of a chemical suppressant. By the time that arrived on the North Shore and emergency crews went into the warehouse, it was too late to stop the flames.

“The battery warehouse was an innovative new technology. We pre-planned for an emergency like this, but we’ve never seen anything like this on this scale,” said Seelig.

The wind farm was shut down. The huge turbines stood still as the fire raged out of control inside the warehouse. Because of the smoke and flames, the entire building then started to collapse, which forced emergency crews to stay outside.
The flames and heat were kept from spreading to other buildings but firefighters had no other choice but to let the fire burn itself out inside the battery warehouse.

Wednesday night, fire crews turned over the site to First Wind personnel who watched the smoldering building. After the burned warehouse cools off, investigators, including experts from the mainland, will go in to piece together what happened.

There is no estimate on when the wind farm may be up and running again or if the fire will affect the other Oahu wind farm now under construction.