THORP, Wash. – Scorched earth surrounds wind turbines just outside the unincorporated town of Thorp, Wash. The Taylor Bridge fire destroyed more than 50 houses and burned an estimated 23,000 acres. But, it did not burn 48 wind turbines.
A few turbines have cosmetic damage, but that’s about it, said EDP Renewables North America operations manager Eric Melbardis.
“Nothing that paper towels won’t clean the smoke off of,” Melbardis said.
The company shut off the turbines as the fire approached so that firefighters would not have to worry about high-voltage electricity. That also helped keep smoke and flames at bay. The turbines, which were turned off for 18 hours, are now running at full-capacity, Melbardis said.
Near the wind project, the fire burned low to the ground because of the shrub steppe terrain, Melbardis said.
Workers recently widened gravel areas around the base of each turbine, he says. Fire crews say this type of landscaping protects against fires. (“Firewise” landscaping also helped a chimpanzee sanctuary survive the blaze.)
This is the first time EDP Renewables, formerly Horizon Energy, has dealt with a wildfire, Melbardis said.
“I wasn’t quite sure how our turbines were going to handle the fire as it was coming through the project. … This was kind of a new one for us, an out-of-control wildfire coming at the project,” he said.
Most response plans at wind projects focus on fires caused on-site, Melbardis said. He says he would like to expand buffer zones around office buildings and equipment.
The Jawbone Complex fires damaged several turbines in California this summer.
The Taylor Bridge fire is still burning in the area, and officials expect to have it contained by next Wednesday.
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