Wind Turbine Catches Fire in Campo

By Roy L Hales
Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 3.43.47 PMA wind turbine exploded on the Campo Indian Reservation, in San Diego’s East County, around noon on December 16. Flames spread to the surrounding bush. Two bombers that responded to the emergency were hampered by high winds. The situation might have got out of control, had a helicopter not arrived. Half an acre of brush was consumed, but the flames did not reach any of the neighboring houses.

Wind Turbine that exploded Dec 16 at Campo - Jim Pelley Photo
Wind Turbine that exploded Dec 16 at Campo, in San Diego’s East County (Click on image to enlarge) – Jim Pelley Photo

This is not the first time a turbine has exploded, or even the first incident on the Campo Reservation. On December 7, 2009, all 25 turbines at the Kumeyaay Wind Project were destroyed by a winter storm.

A witness told East County magazine that, “I saw a huge flash of blue out on the side of the hill where the windmills were. It started in the middle and spread out in all directions.  It lit up the whole hillside the white-out of a snowstorm.”

Three years have passed and the blades from those 25 turbines are still lying on the ground. Many have expressed concerns about the potential risk East County’s wind turbines, or the giant towers of the Sunrise Powerlink, would pose in a major fire.

The Kumeyaay Wind Project on the Interstate 8 (Click on image to enlarge)  - Parke Ewing photo
The Kumeyaay Wind Project on the Interstate 8 (Click on image to enlarge)  – Parke Ewing photo

This is one of the most fire prone areas in California. In 2003 a Santa Anna wind fanned the Cedar Fire to the point it consumed “280,278 acres and destroyed 2,232 structures, 22 commercial buildings, and 566 outbuildings, damaging another 53 structures and 10 outbuildings. There was one fire fighter fatality, 13 civilian fatalities and 107 injuries.” Four years later, similar conditions resulted in the Harris Fire taking nine lives and the Witch Creek Fire terminating another two lives.

Retired Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mar  Ostrander testified that both the giant wind turbines and the huge transmission towers used for the Sunrise Powerlink would hamper fire fighting.

In an interview last Spring, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob warned that, “According to Cal Fire, retardant drops are essential to putting out a fire while it’s small and most effective when performed less than 300 feet above the ground.  Anything higher than that, the wind affects the trajectory of the drop, making it useless. Giant wind turbines poses the same danger. When it comes to ground support, our backcountry fire agencies are not equipped to handle an electrical fire on a turbine that tall.  You need a specialized, highly trained and highly equipped fire crew to address a fire of this kind.”

Ostranger said, “If we have a fire start in a wind area, we’re going to have to wait until it comes out, for the safety of the firefighters.”

(Photos at  top of page Courtesy Jim Pelley)

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