SEARSBURG- Early Sunday morning, the Wilmington Fire Department responded to a report of a turbine fire at Green Mountain Power’s wind facility in Searsburg. According to Wilmington Fire Department Chief Ken March, flames were visible from Route 8 and a state trooper on patrol called in the alarm. Eight firefighters and an engine were sent to the site. The fiberglass housing that covers the machinery of windmill number four was on fire.“Some of the falling fiberglass was burning but did not spread from the immediate area of the windmill. The windmill is so high in the air that we cannot reach it to perform any type of extinguishment efforts and we cannot be underneath it due to falling debris,” said March. “ As with any burning electrical power generating equipment or power lines we do not apply water to these devices for the obvious reason, water and electricity don’t mix. The recommendation from the power company was to monitor it and keep any fire contained to the area.”
GMP spokesperson Dorothy Schnure said that prior to the fire all 11 turbines were online, and once the fire was detected all of them were taken offline. March said that no oil from the turbines was spilled and that they were able to leave in a relatively short period of time. “We were on scene for a little over an hour monitoring the situation. Once the representatives on scene from the power company were satisfied that everything was under control the scene was turned over to them.”
According to Schnure, it is not known whether heat from the bearings, a lightning strike or other cause was responsible for the fire. “Our crew is investigating this. At this time it is not known what caused the fire,” she said. She also said that there are no active or passive fire suppression systems built into the Zond model of windmills that are used at the Searsburg wind facility. According to Schnure, the turbines at Searsburg were set up 18 years ago, using grant money from the US Department of Energy and the Electrical Power Research Institute. In exchange for the grant money, the information gathered from running the machines for the first two years was made available to other electrical generating companies.
Schnure said that both the fiberglass housing as well as the blades for windmill four will need to be replaced, but that this would be accomplished in much less time than it took GMP to get turbine 10 back online after it was destroyed in strong winds in 2008. “That took a couple of years. We replaced a complete turbine. Here, we are replacing the nacelle (the fiber glass housing) and the blades. There are blades stored on the site.” Schnure did not say how long it would take to get turbine four back online, but turbines five through 11 were already back online Monday, and she anticipated that turbines one, two, and three would be online relatively soon.