Fire breaks out in Grand Coulee Dam powerhouse : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Fire breaks out in Grand Coulee Dam powerhouse July 28, 2000, 06:30 PM GRAND COULEE  A fire that broke out Friday in one of Grand Coulee Dam's three powerhouses disrupted hydropower production at the dam and injured a worker, a dam spokesman said.

Despite the loss of about half of the dam's electricity production, the Bonneville Power Administration reported no disruption to its power transmission system, said Craig Sprankle, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam.

All of the electricity produced at the dam, the largest hydropower poroducer in the nation, is routed to the BPA, a federal power-marketing agency.

"The system was able to absorb it without any disruptions," Sprankle said.

The dam was producing about 4,000 megawatts of electricity at the time the fire broke out at 2:15 p.m., and the fire caused a loss of 1,800 megawatts of power production, Sprankle said.

Of the 24 main generators at the northeastern Washington dam, 14 went off line automatically because of the fire. Another four had been off line before the accident for routine maintenance.

"Until we can get the smoke cleared and see what happened, we won't bring those generators on line again," Sprankle said.

One of the dam's circuit breakers malfunctioned and caught fire while a dam operator was working on it, Sprankle said.

The worker, Bob Hart, 55, suffered burns to his arms and legs.

He was airlifted to the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Sprankle said.

His condition was not immediately available.

The fire broke out in an underground room of the powerhouse and was confined to that room, but smoke spread throughout the entire powerhouse, Sprankle said.

"It's an electrical fire, so it really puts out a lot of smoke," said Sam Lorenz, Grant County emergency management director.

Firefighters were sent to the scene, but were not immediately able to go inside the powerhouse because of the thick smoke, Lorenz said.

Instead, a ventilation system was being used to try to get smoke out of the structure.

All employees who had been working in the power house were accounted for, Lorenz said.

Officials were unsure why the circuit breaker caught fire, Sprankle said.

The generator directly affected by the fire provides electricity to operate the powerhouse itself. But an automatic shutdown system to deal with such contingencies kicked in, shutting down other generators, Sprankle said.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 28, 2000

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