TAFT – It was a normal lazy Sunday before area fire crews got a call that a wind turbine was on fire on County Road 3683, in between Taft and Portland. Needless to say, this was the first call of this kind that any of the county fire stations had received since the wind turbines started sprouting like weeds a few years ago.
“I could smell an electrical type smell for a good while, and my mom smelled it too,” Gregory resident Dolores Moreno said. “I was looking at our own house going room to room thinking it was coming from our home since the smell was pretty strong. A while later I heard the sirens so I knew it wasn’t us.”
She also said that she heard someone saying that just before the blaze, they could hear a noise coming from the turbine.
When Portland and Taft fire crews arrived, there wasn’t much to do but get out of the way and watch from a distance. Their hoses couldn’t reach the blaze, and even if they could, it would be very dangerous if those blades fall off while the turbine was in motion.
“It shouldn’t happen; they have safety features built into them that locks the blades down,” Taft Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dan Gibson said. “They were locked down until the fire burnt all the hydraulic oil out of it.
“And I don’t know what they’re going to do. They had their people down there after a while, and they looked at it, but they didn’t want to get around it either.”
Gibson said it was also dangerous because there was still an electric current running through it because all the turbines have a linked distribution system.
According to the San Patricio Economic Development Corporation’s website, the turbines stand at 262 feet tall, have 3 blades and rotate at a maximum speed of 22 rotations per minute.
Apex Director of Corporate Communications Cat Strumlauf said, “The turbine was carefully monitored throughout the evening. Fire crews left the scene Sunday night.
“No injuries were reported, and no people or structures were or are in danger.
“The cause of the fire is currently under investigation. The safety of both the community and our personnel is our top priority.”
With numerous videos of turbine fires online, Taft residents were undoubtably aware of the dangers of such fires and the risk of the enormous blades flying off and cartwheeling into residential areas. According to fire officials, that’s exactly why they are built away from houses and businesses.
Drive through Taft, and it’s obvious that some are still dangerously close to Highway 181.
Apex Clean Energy owns the section of turbines known as Midway Wind which contained the one that caught fire. E.ON Climate and Renewables North America is the company that owns the first ones placed in Taft and closest to the highway.
And while the wind turbines are the same height and turn at the same speeds, it is the two companies that provide the biggest difference – especially when it comes to safety.
“We have training sessions with (E.ON) quite often, but Apex hasn’t gotten around to it yet,” Gibson said. “I don’t even know who Apex is. They don’t have signs or anything.”
SPC Sheriff Oscar Rivera added, “They haven’t talked to us either. When E.ON first came onboard they came into the office and gave us a map of where all their turbines were going to be and gave us a contact number.
“But we haven’t heard from any of the other companies, even the ones on the west end of the county.”