Wind Turbine Fires: Lessons from Scroby Sands Incident

15th May 2024
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On a breezy morning off the coast of Norfolk, the tranquillity of Scroby Sands was abruptly shattered. An alarming sight greeted the horizon as flames engulfed one of the towering wind turbines, casting an eerie glow against the dark sky.

The Scroby Sands wind turbine fire of 15 August 2023 serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of fire awareness and safety measures in the wind energy sector.

Incidents like this underscore the inherent risks associated with wind turbine operations. From mechanical malfunctions to electrical faults, numerous factors can contribute to the ignition of a fire in these complex structures.

How Does a Wind Turbine Catch Fire?

Wind turbines are susceptible to fires due to the proximity of combustible materials, such as hydraulic oil and plastics, to machinery and electrical components. 

In the event of overheating or malfunction, these materials can ignite. Due to high winds, there is an ample supply of oxygen on-site, which can rapidly escalate a fire within the turbine.

The towering height of wind turbines and their remote installations, make combating such fires exceedingly challenging, often resulting in limited firefighting capabilities.

How Often Do Wind Turbines Catch Fire?

Research from Det Norske Veritas group suggests that approximately one in 2,000 wind turbines catch fire each year. Although the overall percentage may seem low, the consequences can be catastrophic, as a conventional approach is often to allow it to burn out naturally. This typically leads to severe structural damage and complete loss in nearly 90% of cases.

Introducing a Fire Risk - The Importance of Fire Prevention

Hot work is the most commonly introduced fire (and explosion) risk in a wind turbine. Therefore, a permit system and associated physical or administrative controls should be in place for hot work.

However, no such work was underway when the wind turbine fire at Scroby Sands broke out, highlighting the importance of proper turbine maintenance in reducing fire risks.

Mitigation measures (e.g. fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire suppression systems, fire detection / alarms etc) should be in place where a fire hazard is identified.

The Fire Risk Assessment should identify the required controls, ensuring that these measures do not create additional risks. For example, carbon dioxide extinguishers may displace oxygen, which the fire is also consuming.

When deciding whether to keep the ventilation system working or switch it off, one must exercise care. Either course may affect the chances of escape or rescue. Continued use of the ventilation system may also escalate a fire.

It's important to regularly check and maintain fire protection and prevention measures and ensure that escape routes are always clear and accessible. The Fire Risk Assessment must also complement any other safe system of work.

 

Why Fire Awareness Training Matters

In the wake of the Scroby Sands wind turbine fire, the importance of comprehensive fire awareness training for wind turbine professionals cannot be overstated. The ability to identify fire risks, know what to do in emergencies, and be ready to act quickly and effectively is crucial.

Ensure Safety with Training from MRS Training & Rescue

MRS Training and Rescue offers a range of safety training courses for the renewables industry, including a specialised Wind Turbine Fire Awareness course - accredited by the Global Wind Organisation.

This course is designed to equip personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to mitigate the risks associated with wind turbine fires. From identifying common fire hazards to implementing preventive measures, our training empowers individuals to safeguard both themselves and the assets under their care.

We deliver our Wind Turbine Fire Awareness course at GWO-approved training facilities across the UK.

Book training today - or contact MRS Training & Rescue for more information.

In Summary

As the renewable energy sector continues to expand, so too must our commitment to ensuring the safety and integrity of wind turbine installations. By prioritising fire awareness training and adopting proactive safety measures, we can minimise the risk of future incidents and protect both people and the environment.

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