WEST PUBNICO, N.S. — A towering wind turbine went up in flames Friday at a wind farm located at the edge of a southern Nova Scotia community.
The West Pubnico fire department responded just after 5 p.m. to monitor the rotating blades and make sure flaming debris did not start additional fires on the ground.
Fire department chief Gordon Amiro said the fire burned itself out after about an hour, once all flammable materials had burned up.
Amiro lives a few kilometres away from the wind farm and said he arrived about five minutes after the call. The tower, which he estimated at over 90 metres tall, was “all aflame.”
“It was something we’d never seen, for sure. And we couldn’t get near it,” he said.
Firefighters were unable to get close enough to put the fire out directly because of the turbine’s height and movement of the blades — and it couldn’t be turned off with the gearbox on fire.
“It was too dangerous to get close to it,” Amiro said. “Because of the length of the blades and the blades were turning, you didn’t know where they were going to go when they fell.”
The department was stationed a few hundred metres away, watching as material burned off and fell from the turbine, advising curious onlookers from the nearby residential area to keep away.
Amiro said only the frame was left standing when he left the scene.
He said the incident could have been worse in summer or early fall when the dry ground is more flammable.
The 17-turbine wind farm is located on the southern tip of Pubnico Point in Nova Scotia’s Yarmouth County.
Amiro said the fire was the first he had heard of at the wind farm since it started providing power in the mid-2000s but research suggests fires are a surprisingly common yet underreported challenge facing the wind farm industry.
A 2014 paper from researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London found that fires are the second most common accident affecting wind turbines, following blade failure.
The turbines are surprisingly susceptible to fires, given the flammable materials on the body and fuel in the nacelle, or the main gearbox — and once fires catch, they most often destroy the turbine, given the challenges of fighting them from the ground.
The researchers noted there are poor statistical records of the phenomenon, however, making research and data collection difficult.