Transformer malfunctions at Westar Energy plant near Colwich, causing long-burning fire

11/29/2012 12:13 AM

11/29/2012 12:14 AM

A large transformer next to the Westar Energy plant east of Colwich malfunctioned Wednesday, sparking a fire that burned for several hours, authorities said.

The fire was reported at 1:50 a.m., and more than 20 fire trucks were sent to the plant northwest of Wichita, a Sedgwick County dispatch supervisor said. The fire burned for more than four hours before fire crews began being released from the scene. No injuries were reported.

About 12,000 gallons of mineral oil used to cool the transformer caught on fire after a ground wire failed, Westar spokesman Nick Bundy said. Two employees on duty at the plant at 151st West and 53rd North spotted the fire and immediately called 911.

Bundy said the fire burned until about 8 a.m. Flames reached heights of 50 feet.

By late Wednesday afternoon, only a few firefighters remained on scene, said Dan Wegner, division chief for Sedgwick County Fire District 1. The department plans to monitor the fire site through Thursday.

The burning oil “wasn’t anything that presented a danger to anyone in the area,” he said. “Our biggest issue was containment and extinguishment of the fire.”

Foam trucks from McConnell Air Force Base, Mid-Continent Airport and Frontier Refinery in El Dorado were used to help put out the fire. The foam was used to cool and smother the flames, Wegner said.

Fire crews from Colwich and Wichita also responded.

“Customers who live in the area most likely experienced a ‘blink’ ” when the transformer caught fire, Bundy said, but no outages resulted from the incident. Electricity demand is typically reduced this time of year, he said, so Westar customers shouldn’t have to worry about reducing usage as a result of the fire.

A damage estimate hasn’t been established.

Both Westar and Sedgwick County Fire District 1 ruled the fire an accident, but Bundy said the electric provider’s investigation will be ongoing for a few days.

“They’ll have to take a look at what equipment was damaged,” Bundy said. “They’ll put a plan together to fix what was broken. That should just roll right along with the routine maintenance.”

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

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