‘Battery bunker’ burns in Brown’s Canyon
Returning from a small lightning-caused fire in the Uintas, the South Summit Fire District was dispatched to a structure fire in Brown’s Canyon Saturday that was related to electricity in a very different way.
Scott Nagle, the district’s spokesperson, described the setting as a sort of bunker that housed a homeowner’s renewable energy setup.
The lithium ion batteries that stored power from his solar panels and wind turbines were up in flames, Nagle said, with acrid black flames rolling out of the garage-like bunker and small flames visible in the back.
“When we first got there, it was popping pretty good,” Nagle said. “It was total blackness when they went in — I mean total black. It had its own smell to it, it’s hard to describe.”
The house off to the side wasn’t damaged, Nagle said, and no one was injured. But no one was going near the garage unless they had an oxygen supply, he said.
The batteries were in the back of the garage, which he estimated was 15 or 20 feet deep.
Nagle said he had to page through an emergency response guidebook to determine how to put out the fire.
“If it’s lithium ion, you can use foam,” he said. “You cannot use foam or water on lithium metal.” That led to Nagle instructing the homeowner to call the battery manufacturer to make sure exactly what was in the batteries.
Once they got the go-ahead to use foam, Nagle said, firefighters went in and started putting it out.
The cause hadn’t been determined, but Nagle said he’s been on a few fires where lithium ion batteries stored right next to each other have self-ignited.
The bunker was made entirely of concrete except for a metal garage door, he said. It was covered with a hill of earth, on top of which the homeowner had solar panels and wind turbines.
The garage also contained some gas canisters and a propane tank, which Nagle said firefighters promptly removed.
The homeowner apparently used the system to power the home, and Nagle said it wasn’t clear whether the setup was a complete loss.
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