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Restart leads to another fire at Progress plant

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By Chris Van Ormer

While trying to restart a coal-fired generator shut down since a January fire, another fire flared up Sunday evening at the Progress Energy Florida plant in Crystal River.

“As crews were bringing the unit online, insulation caught fire,” Cherie Jacobs, spokeswoman for the utility, said Monday. 

Jacobs said the unit that caught fire was Unit 2.

“It had been offline since the Unit 1 fire in January,” Jacobs said. “When they started to bring it online, the insulation overheated and started smoldering.”

Jacobs said the insulation had become soaked with oil. She said it was turbine oil. 

On Jan. 16, a fire broke out shortly before 1 p.m. on the transformer on Unit 1.

Three weeks earlier, on Dec. 19, according to a Citrus County Fire Rescue incident report, crews were dispatched at 6:46 a.m. to a reported transformer fire at Crystal River Units 1 and 2, which are fossil fuel power plants, on Powerline Road in Crystal River. 

On that occasion, the transformer for Unit 1 and the surrounding area including that of Unit 2 were damaged, but the cause of the fire was unknown, fire rescue reported.

After the Jan. 16 fire, Progress Energy said a fire in a transformer is not typical. In that fire, a coolant for the transformer called mineral oil burst into flames. In Sunday’s fire, the oil feeding the flames was turbine oil, a mechanical lubricant. Jacobs said the utility was investigating how the turbine oil got into the insulation.

The insulation was covering the steam pipeline. The transformer did not catch fire.

Likewise, the fire posed no threat to Crystal River Unit 3, the nuclear power plant that was shut down 18 months ago for a refueling outage, and has not been put back into service because of a problem with cracks in the containment wall.

Crystal River has four coal-fired power units, 1, 2, 4 and 5. They use turbines to convert heat energy into mechanical energy that then operates electrical generators.

Jacobs said the fire at Unit 2 started at about 7:18 p.m. and was extinguished in about 10 minutes by the utility’s own fire crew.

Citrus County Fire Rescue and Crystal River Fire Department responded, but the fire was extinguished before they arrived, according to Craig Stevens, assistant fire chief with the Citrus County Fire Rescue.

Stevens confirmed the fire stated on the second floor when oil-soaked insulation combusted. Progress Energy’s own fire crew led the operation. County and Crystal River firefighters stayed although the fire was extinguished to assist the Progress Energy crew in pulling out insulation to avoid another flare-up, Stevens said.

Stevens said the heat from the insulation was not extreme for the crew.

“It was pretty normal,” Stevens said. “They had their regular firefighting gear on.”

Stevens said four county fire engines and one county fire truck attended, and Crystal River has one fire engine crew there.

Jacobs said no one was injured and the fire caused no disruption in service.

When asked why the power station has had three fires since December, Jacobs said, “The timing of the three fires is coincidental, and, it is important to note, at two different units. Power plants routinely deal with combustible materials.”

Jacobs said the utility has a thorough maintenance program that keeps all facilities in a safe condition.

“There were no injuries in the fires or in the restoration process,” Jacobs said.

Unit 1 is operating, Jacobs said. The utility hopes to have Unit 2 operating soon.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be contacted at 594-2916 or cvanormer@chronicleonline.com