NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Officials concluded the Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) fires that took place over a year ago, were the result of operator error.
Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister yesterday tabled two reports into three fires at the Clifton Pier Power Station, and another at the Blue Hills Power Station in September 2018.
As he tabled the reports in the House of Assembly, Bannister expressed disappointed one of the reports were revealed prior to its tabling — a report prepared by Florida-based Rimkus Consulting Group in March 2019.
The fire on September 7 at Station C was reportedly caused as a result of a puncture valve assembly missing a threaded plug, resulting in heavy fuel oil spraying upward onto the building roof members and raining onto hot engine components.
The engine components were hot from the engine being operated at the time of the incident.
While the exact point of ignition was indeterminate, evidence of combustion was observed on the exterior of the exhaust manifold, which may have contributed to the ignition of the heavy fuel oil, the report notes.
MAN Energy Solutions, the manufacturer of the generator, reportedly did not have a procedure for manipulating or performing maintenance on the puncture valve with the engine operating.
The plug was not found at the time of the inspection and could not be evaluated, the engineers reported.
However, the report noted there was no physical damage observed on the puncture valve plug threads to indicate that the threaded connected had failed.
It read: “The available physical evidence was consistent with operator error, due to manipulation of the plug either during off-line puncture valve maintenance or at the time the puncture valve was being manipulated with the engine operating. No physical evidence was observed that would lead us to consider this to be gross negligence.”
The cost of damage incurred was $33.21 million with a timeline to complete the restoration to full operation estimated at 21 months.
According to the Department of Fire Services’ report, completed on December 27, 2018 and signed by Fire Services Director Chief Superintendent Walter Evans, BPL had a high fire spread factor and was a ‘high’ general fire hazard.
Fire Services responded to four fires between September 7-14, 2018.
The first fire took place around 10:37pm. on September 7.
The report said due to the intensity of the fire, which was located in a building containing a 31.5-megawatt generator, Civil Aviation Crash and Rescue Fire Department assisted in providing a high volume of foam to suppress the fire.
The teams battled the blaze for around five hours.
The DA-11 generator received extensive fire, head and smoke damage.
An inspection conducted to determine the origin and cause of the fire led inspectors to a third pump located at the eastern section of the generator. The control airline to the pump was disconnected and the stroke pin was missing from the top of the pump, Fire Services inspectors concluded.
The report noted there was a “heavy” accumulation of oil, oil deposits, sludge and water at the basement of the station. As a result, the inspection was temporarily discontinued until the working conditions were made safe and products removed.
However, the conditions remained the same when inspectors returned on September 19, 2018, which made it a challenge to conduct the basement inspection.
The inspection was subsequently discontinued.
“The evidence clearly indicated that the fire was initiated at the pump which released flames into the basement,” the report read.
“The inspection of the basement indicated that the fire travelled with a downward pattern. The elements on the generator and at the basement exhibited exposure to typical Class B liquids. This deliberation would take into account the reason the fire occurred on two other occasions within a very short time.”
Around 9:30pm on September 9, Fire Services responded to a second fire at Clifton Pier, contained in the basement.
The report noted “oil had leaked from the generator and had ignited in the basement causing a fire to erupt”.
On September 10, fire personnel were called to a third fire in the same general area around 8:31 a.m.
However, when fire personnel arrived there were no visible flames BPL staff extinguished the flames which were confined to a generator, which was destroyed.”
The cause of the fire was listed as unknown in the report.
A single-story metal structure at BPL’s Blue Hills Power Plant caught on fire around 9:52 p.m. on September 14.
The fire caused damage to the electrical circuitry for a number of areas in New Providence and left several circuit panels destroyed.
The report noted there was nothing to suggest anything sinister, but the fire resulted from overheated electrical wires in the circuitry panel.
Due to the frequency of the fires, Fire Services also conducted a water supply analysis report, which found that the Clifton Pier Power Station had 22 high-pressured fire hydrants.
However, three were not working and 14 cabinets had insufficient emergency equipment which includes a hose or fire extinguisher.
“There are three fire pump houses on site for Stations A, B, and C,” the report read.
“Station B has been out of commission for over five years due to the wellbeing filled with oil.
“In the western area of the plant there are two
Fire Services found that the hose and hose cabinets were corroded throughout the basement, and the hoses and nozzles were missing from hose cabinets throughout the property.
According to the report, doors and panic hardware were inoperable and corroded throughout the property.
Fire Services concluded it is imperative that safety measures be implemented to prevent fire occurrences at the Clifton Pier Power Station, and equally important for the power company to have an adequate early warning resource coupled with sufficient equipment that would “allow the abatement of an emergency uprising”.
The report said this includes regular maintenance and safety checks of equipment.
As part of its recommendations, Fire Services also called on the power provider to install emergency lights in the storage warehouse, the DA11 and DA12 substations an in both pump rooms.
It further recommended installing photo electric smoke detectors in the ceiling of the stock room located in the storage warehouse; and a horn and strobe notification placed throughout the generator room, basement areas and mechanical room, among other areas.
Additionally, Fire Services advised BPL to install a combination of illuminated exit sign, emergency lights over all entrances and exits of the property.