Fire Danger! What’s the Impact Zone of an Explosion at the proposed gas power plant? Applicant: No response.

Fire Safety 101:  Don’t build a fossil fuel GAS power plant in a high fire-hazard zone.
(Scroll to bottom to view “What can I do to help stop this power plant?“)

John Gibbins aerial photo of 2003 fire around Scripps Ranch area.
Aerial of 2003 Cedar Fire around Scripps Ranch area taken by John Gibbins/Union-Tribune.

Will our communities, homes, and our lives be protected? The City of Santee has stated it refuses to provide any emergency services to the power plant. The only response would be from San Diego, which has also opposed the project. Therefore, according to the California Energy Commission (CEC), to meet the local regulations and standards (LORS), a fire would need to be impossible, the risk zero. Really? Zero fire risk? Residents in San Diego and East County know all too well, this won’t be the case!

Required vs. Actual response times for San Diego Fire Stations to the proposed plant site:
Fire Response Times Chart
At the October 19, 2012, CEC Public Workshop, San Diego Deputy Chief Doug Perry stated the “drawdown” of emergency response resources and extended response times by the Fire Dept. are significant. We “can’t get there as quick as CityGate rules say that we should.” He continued, “It will take longer and the fires will potentially be larger.”

The applicant CoGentrix said that to bridge this time gap, they will create a “shelter in place” with breathing apparatus for the workers. Perry agreed it could be safer to keep the workers in the structure and let a wildlands fire go around it. SMT volunteer Sonja Ramos, who lives close to the proposed site, noted this shelter will be of no help to her and other local residents, though.

Photo from CEC Workshop 10/19/12 fire discussion
Deputy Fire Chief Perry and SMT volunteer and local resident Sonja Ramos discuss fire impacts at the Oct. 19, 2012 CEC Wksp, while Ziebart, hired lobbyist and applicant mgr. for CoGentrix (left), looks on.

Perry says he won’t put his people at risk if the plant itself has a fire. This is understandable due to high voltage and other dangerous issues. SDGE would have to come first and de-energize the plant. Perry notes that this will take awhile as in the recent case of fire in a Kearny Mesa facility. The fires burned for nearly three hours before being considered safe for fire crews to enter and do their job.

The cul-de-sac of the cul-de-sac…
At the CEC meeting, the public learned that CalFire and US Forest Service would not be dispatched until it was considered a 3rd or 4th alarm fire and only if the fire is on wildland (not within the plant facility). Perry said that in the San Diego area, we don’t always get the resources we need. “We’re the cul-de-sac of the state.” Yes, and many of us live in the cul-de-sac of a neighborhood with only one escape route. About 1,000 residents in three townhome/condo complexes live in the cul-de-sac area near Bushy Hill/Simeon Drive less than a mile southwest.  It’s unlikely residents will be able to effectively evacuate when there is only one escape route.

What if there is a natural gas explosion at the site…or another Santa Ana-wind driven fire like those of 2003 and 2007?

Santa Ana conditions are common in San Diego. Here, the 2003 Cedar Fire jumps Interstate 15.
Santa Ana conditions are common in San Diego. The October 2003 Cedar Fire jumped Interstate 15 and burned through major parts of Mission Trails Regional Park and Tierrasanta. Photo by CHARLES STARR / Union-Tribune

Communities at the west end of Santee and the West Hills High School are within 800 yards of the site. Fire Chief Perry stated that fires would be past the plant within five to ten minutes at the most.

Going up in smoke…..
A homeowner less than a mile south of the power plant site has been denied insurance on her condo by both Ameriprise and the Automobile Club (Triple A). She called Ameriprise to get specifics about her denial and was told, “It’s because of being in a fire zone.” Ameriprise utilizes “risk meter.com” (a member site used by insurance companies to determine insurance risk) and Google Maps. The company told her the area is extremely high risk, and that underwriters would not insure her condo or any other properties within 500 feet of a fire zone. Another homeowner living near Medina St. east of the proposed plant told SMT, “My husband and I were denied home insurance by Wawanesa Insurance Group due to the fire zone at Mission Trails Regional Park.”

So, if homeowners can’t get insurance due to proximity to a designated fire zone, why should a gas-powered plant covering 11+ acres within this zone get a green light? And how will a gas power plant impact the residents of the surrounding area? Residents worry about insurance coverage and rate increases compounding property value loss.

Unusual and fierce…
San Diego is known for its unusual and fierce wildlfire conditions. Santa Ana conditions produce winds blowing sometimes over 100 mph. Once started, fires are difficult if not impossible to stop in winds more than 25 mph, and fires are commonly blown up and down hillsides. The result is very fast spreading fires that typically get out of control quickly. One good spark and we’re all up in smoke.

The fire moves south down Oak Canyon toward the 52 freeway. Photo by Charles Starr.
A fire moves south down through Oak Canyon / East Elliott toward the 52 freeway. Photo by Charles Starr.

Additionally, brush fires in and along Mission Trails and East Elliott Open Space are common, especially along Highway 52. Locals (like myself) are used to seeing a few every year, with many started from car sparks or cigarettes thrown out car windows.

At the workshop, the applicant and the CEC tried to assure us that we are safe from fires and that fires in these types of power plants are rare. Meanwhile, CEC staff recommended that CoGentrix hire and train their own in-house fire brigade and have an onsite EMT. Our reply: We won’t take this risk.

Just recently in the news: “A natural gas power plant at Miramar remained offline this week after a weekend fire. Plant operator NRG Energy still is evaluating when its generator may return to service, said company spokeswoman Lori Neuman. An adjacent power plant run by San Diego Gas & Electric briefly had its fuel supply cut off as a result of the fire. The blaze broke out Saturday at about 6:15 p.m. at the plant on Consolidated Way north of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. Flames soared 30 feet into the air.”

CEC Fire Safety Expert says there is no risk of fires from the pipeline due to strict Federal regulations of new pipelines. Here’s a list of some pipeline accidents resulting in fires. We’re sure the folks living near the San Bruno gas power plant explosion in 2010 had also been reassured that there was no danger.

What can I do to help stop this power plant? 1) Click for easy instructions to email and add your name to the growing army of opposition against this not-needed fossil fuel plant. It’s critical each one of us does this. Strong public opposition can help sway the state commissioners into making the correct decision for our communities and park and/or 2) Come to a SMT meeting to get more info and find out about volunteering. Thank you!

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3 thoughts on “Fire Danger! What’s the Impact Zone of an Explosion at the proposed gas power plant? Applicant: No response.”

  1. Another question that needs to be asked and we all know the CEC will never approach this, what is the evacuation route for those South of Simeon and are surrounded by firestorm fuel?

  2. Let’s look at the bigger picture, rezoning denied, the real need to build this abomination is questionable especially in light of newer technologies and energy efficiency requirements, located next to a school and for practical purposes in a Park, massive overwhelming community opposition, extreme fire hazard, potential to be a gross polluter with the cash purchase of pollution credits, the potential to burn the hot imported gas.,, Co gen tricks points their lawyers at the CEC and aggressively pushes forward, all this from an out of town company flying the banner of “good neighbor” when they came to town. Those good neighbors sure changed quick!

  3. When I asked Cogntrix what would happen if fire hit the oil storge tanks ( 26,000 gals worth), they said “Nothing. There’s no air in the tanks and fire needs air to combust.” Lightening has struck oil tanks and caused explosions. Fire has melted steel tanks, exposing the oil to air and fire. We were assured that nothing could blow up at the power plant…not gas lines, not transformers and not oil. And the Titanic couldn’t sink.

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