Firefighters were powerless to respond after a wind turbine in Texas was struck by lightning and caught fire Friday.
The turbine was struck during a thunderstorm in Crowell, Texas, Friday afternoon. Video taken by witnesses at the scene show the windmill on fire, belching smoke into the air, before coming to a complete halt and continuing to burn. Firefighters arrived on scene later, but were unable to do anything because there is no equipment or training to handle such an occurrence.
Mike Collier, a meteorologist for Tulsa-based NBC affiliate KJRH, tweeted a video of the incident Friday. The video, taken by a witness named Brent Havins, shows the wind turbine continuing to turn while one of the blades is on fire. Flames blaze along the center of the blade, while a trail of black smoke billows from both the tip of the blade and the fire, sending rings of smoke spiraling out behind the turbine.
At around the 16-second mark, the blade disintegrates into flaming strands of metal. The turbine continues to spin, dragging the destroyed blade around with it. One of the strands lands on the generator housing, and at around the 28-second mark, the entire housing turns bright orange as it begins to burn as well. At around the 40-second mark, the windmill finally comes to a halt, still ablaze.
This is near Cromwell, OK. Brent Havins shot this video of a wind turbine that got struck by lightning. pic.twitter.com/jBjUNas0yc
— Mike Collier (@MikeCollierWX) July 22, 2022
Another video posted to Facebook by the Crowell Fire Department shows part of the turbine blade collapsing to the ground, while the smoke and flames billow out from the generator housing and the other two blades begin to catch fire.
Doppler radar images from Fox Weather showed that dozens of lightning strikes were recorded in the area of Crowell, Texas, during a thunderstorm that passed over the area Friday between 11 a.m. and 12 noon Central Time.
Fire crews responded to the scene, but Crowell Fire Chief Perry Shaw told Fox Weather there was little they could do. “We’re not equipped to handle that kind of fire. Nobody in the area really is to speak of,” Shaw said.
He said he had previously seen videos of wind turbines on fire, but this was the first such incident in Crowell. “We’ve done training with the wind farm company, and they are not safe to approach during that scenario. There weren’t any people in danger of being hurt, so we let the fire do what it is going to do,” Shaw said. He said the source of the smoke was likely the hundreds of gallons of lubricants inside the turbine; Shaw estimated that there were some 800 gallons of oil in the gearbox and another 1,300 gallons of mineral oil in the transformer on the ground.
Innergex Renewable Energy, the company that operates the 31,000-acre, 350 megawatt-generating wind farm, said that all personnel at the facility were safe, and that only one of the 139 General Electric wind turbines were impacted.
The collapse of the turbine comes just days after another turbine collapsed in Sweden, just a few weeks after it was commissioned. The turbine, owned by a German company called RWE, collapsed suddenly last Saturday. Residents in the area were urged to stay away, as gearbox oil was suspected to have leaked from the generator.
“The area around the affected wind turbine is closed and we urge the public not to try to approach this place,” RWE said in a statement, via Wind Power Monthly. “We suspect that oil from the gearbox may have leaked and the relevant authorities are informed.”