Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fire reaches northern edge of wind farm near Ellensburg

Colockum Tarps Fire
The Colockum Tarps wildfire reached the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility's most northern boundary Wednesday, but didn't burn much farther into the 149-turbine wind farm.
The wind farm, about 17 miles east of Ellenburg, is owned and operated by Puget Sound Energy.
PSE spokesman Ray Lane Thursday morning said wind-driven flames went about a dozen yards into the wind farm's northern property but were slowed by firefighters and changing winds. The fire moved in a more southwesterly direction into rural lands of widely scattered country home sites nestled in and around ridges in several creek drainages. The northern boundary of the wind farm is about eight miles north of Vantage Highway.
The fire didn't reach any wind farm infrastructure. The facility maintains a 125,000-gallon water tank for firefighting purposes.
"We are definitely feeling a lot better today than yesterday," Lane said, adding that early Wednesday the fire's direction indicated it might travel deeper on to wind farm property.
The 10,600-acre wind farm usually has more than 30 employees on site, but PSE spokesman Brian Lenz said only one or two were on scene Wednesday to assist firefighters who are setting up a camp on the grounds. Firefighters also are at PSE's Renewable Energy Center using it as a fire lookout. He added that PSE is extremely grateful to the firefighters for their cooperation and assistance in protecting the wind farm.
Lane said this morning he's awaiting word if PSE wind farm employees can come back to the facility today to check on the condition of turbines and associated high-tech equipment that might be affected by soot and ash that's fallen from the fire.The 5,000-square-foot interpretive and visitors' center is perched near the 3,500-foot peak of Whisky Dick Mountain.
The turbines are designed to withstand brush fires. The turbines have been in "paused" mode as the fire approached and are not generating electricity. Lane said evaluation today may allow to go back into operation, or it could be another day before they are operational. The wind farm also has a substation, communications-operations center and shop.
The turbines, the solar array and other functions at the wind farm can be remotely monitored and controlled at the PSE office on South Pearl Street in downtown Ellensburg. If evacuated employees are allowed to return today, operations will be switched to the wind farm site.
The center was closed to the public on Tuesday.
Artifacts on loan to the center from the Kittitas County Historical Museum in Ellensburg were taken out of the center as a precaution and temporarily returned to the museum, including a 1905 electric car and basket.