Mineral oil feeding huge fire at Avondale SRP power plant

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by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on March 29, 2010 at 6:20 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 29 at 5:32 PM

Map: SRP tranformer fire

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AVONDALE -- A huge fire fed by mineral oil burned at an SRP power plant in Avondale for hours.

While the fire gave crews a hard time, it didn't affect people's electricity, nor posed a threat to any residences because the plant in is located in a relatively remote area near Broadway and El Mirage roads on the west side.

Hazardous-materials response teams were called out, but it was determined that the smoke the fire was putting out, which was visible for miles, is not toxic.

Thousands of gallons of mineral oil, which is used to cool the four transformers and keep them running, was what was burning.

Firefighters were going to try to use foam to douse the flames. If that does not work, however, they're going to let the fire burn itself out. That could take up to two days.

The fire started some time after midnight, but it's not yet clear what sparked it.

"That's a mystery right now," said SRP spokesman Scott Harelson. "There wasn't a lot of load on the system that would have caused it to overheat or fail. That's going to be part of the investigation."

While the fire will not affect people's electricity, replacing the damaged transformer, which handles power coming in from California, could prove challenging.

"These are large pieces of equipment. They're very expensive," Harelson said. "You don't have a lot of them lying around. In fact, we don't have one. We're going to be looking around the region for anybody who might have a spare available that matches. We'll bring that in as quickly as possible."

Harelson said the goal will be to have the replacement in by summer, but that depends on what's available.

Even if that new equipment isn't in place by the time summer and its demand for air conditioning arrives, residents probably still will not be affected.

"We build into our system margin to lose facilities like this," Harelson explained. "When you do lose a facility, it reduces your margin for error. Clearly, we’d like to have a transformer in place so we wouldn't see any interruption in service."

The fire was not threatening any of the other three transformers at the plant.

While the fire was impressive to see and damage to the transformer was likely to be extensive, no injuries have been reported.

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