4-day-long N.Y. solar farm fire contained
Firefighters in Chaumont have contained the fire at the Convergent Energy and Power site and will stand a fire watch as the investigation begins
By Jonathon Wheeler
Watertown Daily Times
CHAUMONT, N.Y. — Fire crews have officially halted water operations at the site of the solar farm fire at 11 a.m. Sunday. Officials say water operations were stopped as the battery storage blaze was contained and they continue to check the area to ensure the air quality remains normal.
Chaumont Fire Chief William Lipczynski said they will remain on scene as a fire watch, and they are continuing to watch the area.
The investigation into what caused the blaze will be done by Convergent Energy and Power, owners of the battery storage units, officials said, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation looking at the environmental impact.
“Our goal is to de-escalate this as reasonably as we are able, we stopped flowing water but we kept resources available to flow water if something changed,” said Niel D. Rivenburgh, deputy director for Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Services. “We’ll hopefully continue to de-escalate this down to just a couple of guys in a pickup truck with binoculars to continue to watch downrage and make sure nothing changes until all of the heat’s gone.”
Once the heat is gone, the investigation will commence.
At this point, Rivenburgh said they didn’t know whether or not there was any water contamination.
Lyme Town Supervisor Terry Countryman said officials will continue to look at air and water quality.
“All of the agencies that are involved with that are doing that as we speak,” he said.
Countryman said that it will be determined whether or not there was contamination “as soon as we can.”
State officials are part of the investigation and Countryman said “it will be investigated on the highest of levels.”
On Friday, Countryman said there were no immediate health or safety concerns, there were zero toxic byproducts in the air, and there was no indication of groundwater contamination or runoff contamination posing health risks.
Countryman said there needs to be education on lithium, a component of the battery storage units, and how it is used in society.
“It’s in your back pocket, it’s in your car, it’s everywhere,” he said. “We need to learn how to fight it best, and how we’re going to bring it into our communities.”
No injuries were reported in the firefighting efforts.
Lipczynski said this is the first time he’s seen something like this.
“This is definitely a first for me, and I’m hoping, the last,” he said.
Rivenburgh said there is an opportunity from this event for first-responders to learn from the incident as solar farms have begun popping up throughout the county.
“There’s been an incredible opportunity to learn from this incident,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that we engaged, not just to let Chaumont stand down after their first 36 hours, but because if we get other chiefs and operators in here we are able to give them the tidbits of information to keep them safe when something happens in their solar projects.”
Rivenburgh said that he suspects the cause and origin of the fire will lead to a design and safety review, which he said he believes was Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s intent creating a new interagency fire safety working group aimed at ensuring the safety and security of energy storage systems across the state following fire incidents in Jefferson, Orange and Suffolk counties this summer.
“Following multiple fire safety incidents across New York, I’ve directed State agencies to immediately form the Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group to mobilize the personnel and resources necessary to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement. “The Working Group will collaborate with first responders and local leaders to identify best practices, address potential risks to public safety, and ensure energy storage sites across New York are safe and effective.”
“Locally, it has definitely turned the attention to the need for some training for our local fire departments because when you roll up here and you have odd circumstances, it’s incredibly difficult to make split-second decisions,” Rivenburgh said. “Every time there’s a bad something, there’s lessons to be learned out of it, and that certainly is the case for this.”
Lipczynski thanked the community for their help.
“We would like to thank our community and the residents of Town of Lyme, Chaumont, and surrounding communities that have chipped in to help us with whatever it be, from food, to water, A-Z, we greatly appreciate everything and we appreciate you guys working with us and being understanding that we are trying to work as hard as we can to get this mitigated and get everyone’s life back to normal,” he said.
A news release from the town of Lyme says units will remain on site throughout the cause and origin investigation process and that company representatives have been on site since Thursday to work with local officials to help mitigate and identify any potential risks to health and safety of responders, the community, and the environment. The release goes on to state that they will remain committed through the equipment and environmental post-incident mitigation.