'Proactive response' at Brunner Island coal-silo fire

Liz Evans Scolforo

A fire inside a coal silo at the Brunner Island Power Plant in York Haven early Thursday morning could have been serious, but no one was hurt, and there was no environmental runoff to contend with, a local fire chief said.

"It absolutely could have been bad," Union Fire Co. Chief Joe Stevens said. "But the power company has their fire brigade on site (at all times). They are trained to handle these situations — and handle them quickly."

Brunner Island Power Plant on Wago Road in East Manchester Township, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert photo)

Officials at the power plant, owned by Talen Energy, asked local fire companies for assistance as a precaution, according to Stevens, who said his firefighters were dispatched there at 1:47 a.m.

When crews arrived, they spotted flames near the sixth-floor level of a coal silo that Stevens estimated has eight floors.

The metal access port on the silo was so hot it glowed cherry red, the chief said.

"The potential for something to go bad there is very high," Stevens said. "There's always potential for things like dust explosions from the coal dust."

And if a large amount of water is needed to douse flames, the contaminated runoff can become an environmental concern, he said.

No haz-mat spill: That did not happen Thursday, according to Stevens.

"We had a hose line in place flowing water into the silo," he said, but only a small amount, because the silos can only stand a certain amount of weight.

Brunner Island's fire brigade has a system that contains contaminated runoff, which is what happened Thursday, according to the chief.

Stevens said local fire officials and Brunner Island's fire brigade did an assessment of the situation and responded proactively, in case things went bad. Crews had the fire under control in about two hours, he said.

"We did go to a second alarm, just because of the nature of the incident," Stevens said. "If it had escalated, we would have needed a lot of manpower immediately."

Stevens said local firefighters cleared the scene about 4 a.m.

"At the point we left, there were no flames visible, and the hot glowing metal had (cooled)," he said.

The York County Hazardous Materials Team was automatically alerted because of the location of the incident, the chief said, but there was no haz-mat spill.

Unloading the silo: Brunner Island workers must  go through the time-consuming process of unloading coal from the massive silo to check for hot spots, according to Stevens.

A phone message left for Brunner Island's media spokesman was not immediately returned Thursday.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.