PORT ANGELES – Power storage batteries caught fire at The Landing mall Wednesday, triggering an evacuation of between 50 and 100 people from the waterfront landmark and closures of surrounding streets and City Pier.
The bank of batteries burst into flames about 12:30 p.m., said Port Angeles Fire Capt. Jamie Mason.
Firefighters arrived by 12:35, he said, and found water and smoke pouring from vents in a small room in the northeast corner of the building – just below Downriggers restaurant.
The room inside was in flames.
Electrical power was shut off to the building as all on-duty Port Angeles Fire Department personnel were called.
A truck from Clallam County Fire District No. 2 was requested as backup.
City Pier was evacuated at 2:15 p.m. because of the chemical-laden smoke being blown across the pier, said Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith.
“It was an irritant,” Smith said.
The electrical fire was extinguished by 2:53 p.m., and by 3:41 p.m. the room had been overhauled, the building fully vented, and power restored, Mason said.
Once electricity was restored, people were allowed to return to the building, he said.
The fire and smoke were contained to the battery room, a small compartment where a battery system installed for a wind power system is stored, according to fire officials.
The batteries either shorted out or otherwise failed, and melted through their metal and Plexiglas cage, said Eric Mischke, maintenance supervisor of The Landing mall.
There was no damage to offices adjacent to the battery room or to Downriggers on the second floor.
Many of those who were evacuated from shops and restaurants in the 25-year-old mall remained outside watching the Fire Department’s efforts.
Natalie Montes, a cook at Smuggler’s Landing at the south end of the mall, said she didn’t hear alarms or smell smoke, and didn’t know about the fire until firefighters evacuated the restaurant.
As firefighters fought the fire, spectators could see a bank of scorched, melted batteries occasionally visible through smoke that filled the room.
The batteries are part of a “green energy” system that stores excess power to the building during low power usage, and feeds it back into the system during times of high usage, Mischke said.
A windmill was installed to provide wind power to the mall, but it was not hooked up to the battery system when the fire broke out Wednesday, Mischke said.
The batteries either shorted out or otherwise failed, melting through their metal and Plexiglas cage, he said.
Firefighters were cautious in entering the building because of high voltage in the room, even after city of Port Angeles workers turned off conventional power to the building.
Sprinkler systems in the rest of the building were not triggered, and the majority of the smoke from the fire was vented outside.
A hagfish fishery operation located on the pier north of The Landing lost power, and the water circulation system to the live hagfish tanks was threatening the fish, said Olympic Coast Seafoods owner Rodney Kim.
The operation keeps hundreds of live hagfish – also known as “slime eels” – in large tanks in a building at the end of the pier, where they are kept healthy and calm by constantly circulating fresh seawater through the tanks before the live delicacy is shipped to South Korea.
When hagfish are stressed, they produce large amounts of slime, which can smother the fish.
With power cut to the building, many of the fish may die, Kim said.
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