Saunemin, Ill. -- A wind energy conversion turbine caught fire Friday afternoon, causing responses from both Saunemin and Pontiac fire departments. There’s little that fire departments can do, however, as the turbine’s are beyond the reach of fire combating instruments.
It is, however, a little ironic that the source of power the turbines were trying to capture may have also caused or exacerbated the fire at the turbine, located near the intersection of Route 47 and 2200 North Road. Pontiac Fire Chief Scott Runyon noted that wind is a known obstacle in combating fires.
Runyon qualified his commentary by saying that he was not a wind turbine engineer, nor had he spoken with Iberdrola, the company that owns the turbines in the area. A voicemail left for an Iberdrola spokesman went unreturned. As for the fire chief, Runyon thought that wind could have played a role in the turbine fire.
“I don’t know what happened in Saunemin,” he said. “I could conjecture all I want. Saunemin (Fire Protection District) made contact with them and it could be anything. I’m going to guess it probably had something to do with the high winds.”
The Saunemin Fire Protection District could not be reached for comment. Runyon broke down the havoc that strong, gusting winds can create for firefighting.
“The biggest thing is that if there is a fire, the wind just definitely makes it burn faster and a little more violently,” he said. “If it’s a building fire, it affects it to some extent, depending on how many windows are broke out of it. But what it really affects are outdoor-type fires — grass fires and such — and can blow it out of your control pretty quick.”
The local fire chief also mentioned the potential for wind to create fires that would not have normally started of their own volition.
“Most of the time, if you throw a cigarette butt out the window (for example), it lands where it lands,” he said. “But if it’s windy, it could blow into some dry grass. Once it gets going, we just have to chase it for a while until we get ahead of it. It’s nothing real major, but it can affect things.”
One of the worries rural residents might have with turbine fires is the potential to create a wider field fire, an issue that Runyon acknowledged. However, he also cautioned against excessively stressing about such scenarios.
“The biggest worry on the turbine fires is … if it’s harvest time and it’s really dry, then that could cause a problem,” he said. “But more than likely, it’ll be contained to the area immediate around it, with the falling or blowing debris. But you’ll get that whether it’s real windy or not. It just depends on how far it blows.”