By Elaine M. Avallone
Carthage Republican Tribune
CARTHAGE, N.Y. — The cogeneration plant on West End Avenue has been shut down following a fire which broke out Tuesday morning.
Daniel Hucko, director of media for Iberdrola USA of which Carthage Energy LLC, 701 West End Ave., is a subsidiary, said the fire is still under investigation. He said the six full-time and one part-time employees are "still employed and still will be." Mr. Hucko said they are currently helping with the clean up and investigation. The company representative said there was heat, fire and water damage in the area where the fire broke out. It is unknown at this time when the plant will be back up and running.
The Carthage Fire Department called in aerial trucks from Lowville and the town of Watertown to help in fighting the blaze.
Mr. Hucko confirmed that the fire was electrical and said the fire originated in the a cabinet which contained a switch gear and transformer.
"A mechanical failure caused a small explosion which started the fire," he said.
The company is trying to determine what caused the system failure and fully assess the damage.
According to Brian J. Draper, Carthage-Wilna Fire District head driver, the fire was difficult to fight since the structure is so large, and the point of origin was hard to detect through thick smoke.
Once the fire was found in the back right-hand corner of the building, it did not take firefighters long to get it under control.
Mr. Draper estimated that it took 45 minutes to an hour for the fire to be secured. He attributed the timely handling of the situation to the abundance of manpower and the assistance given by power plant employees. West End Avenue was shut down for about two hours.
Natural Bridge Fire Chief Jason P. O’Meara said there had been initial concerns over whether all of the machinery had been properly shut down and whether there was any danger of power surging back into the plant from the nearby National Grid substation, where the power generated by the plant is relayed.
Mr. Hucko said the employees followed standard operating procedures to prevent back feed to the substation and to de-energize the area so firefighters could use water to put out the fire.
"Safety is our number one concern," he said.
Mr. O’Meara said there was "a lot of damage" to the interior of Carthage Energy.
When the firefighters were wrapping up at the scene, an explosive sound was heard and the structure was evacuated.
Edward Cousins, plant operations and maintenance manager, said the noise was caused by a "ruptured disc - a fail-safe where steam is released."
Mr. Cousins confirmed that the fire originated in a gear switch but could not say whether the plant would be shut down or for how long.
Robert B. Ball, village of Carthage code enforcement officer, inspected the site and found that there was no structural damage. He said that machinery had been affected by the fire and water, and that the plant is calling in a high-voltage team to assess the damage and make repairs.
Also responding to the scene were West Carthage firefighters and Black River Ambulance. No injuries were reported.
According to Watertown Daily Times archives, Carthage Energy LLC operates its 45-megawatt facility during the summer and peak heating months in the winter, when energy demands are high.
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