July 2015 Back PagePosted: August 5, 2015
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 28, we received the dreaded call from our power plant operator in Emmonak, reporting that a fire had started in the power plant. Soon, dense smoke emanated from the building as the fire suppression system activated. The local fire department rushed to the scene. The fire was extinguished quickly, but not before significant damage was done to the building, the generator, control systems and other equipment in the power plant.
Our Emmonak operator entered the power plant as soon as allowed and assessed the damage. At first, it appeared the damage might not be as extensive as feared and power would be restored within a few hours. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. The generator that caught fire, a 2-year-old Caterpillar 3456, had just been taken off line as the load was switched to another generator. A fuel line sprung a pinhole leak and sprayed fuel onto the hot generator, starting the fire. The generator was heavily damaged, as was the newly installed electronic control system for the plant and other critical equipment. Four AVEC technicians arrived late that afternoon and work began on several solutions. At one point a state trooper suggested our crew not disturb the fire scene until after the state fire marshal had an opportunity to investigate. After an internal discussion, we decided to proceed with assessment and repairs since nobody had been hurt and this was a community emergency.
The tieline to Alakanuk was activated the next day—not a simple matter since major connections had not been completed and all the feeders in Emmonak had to be reconfigured. The power plant there began feeding power to Emmonak at 2 a.m. on April 30. That allowed power to be restored to most customers, although the school was asked to stay on its own generator until additional generation resources were available.
Because of the damage to the control systems, the crew had to reroute wiring from one of the three remaining generators to bypass the switchgear and connect directly into the transformer banks. That was accomplished within a couple of days and all services were restored to AVEC power.
It was a harrowing experience and required many hours of feverish work by our people in Emmonak and Anchorage, but the catastrophe was contained and remedied in 40 hours. We continue work on restoring the control systems in Emmonak and hope we never have a similar incident.
Heartfelt thanks go out to the wonderful emergency response volunteers in Emmonak. The community banded together to respond to the fire and were instrumental in preventing far worse consequences.