Investigation to take up to a year for Renewable Energy Fire

Staff Report

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It may take six months to a year to find out exactly what happened when a biomass boiler caught on fire in the Renewable Energy Center on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
The investigation began on Monday Dec. 21 to allow an 18-inch firebrick to cool down completely.
Charleston firefighters were called to the center at 5:25 p.m. that Tuesday when a problem was reported from inside a heat recovery unit, which affected one of the building’s four boilers.
Over the next few hours, the fire spread inside the three-story unit necessitating a call for more help from Charleston and the Lincoln Fire Protection District.
According to a press release, the Lincoln Fire Protection District remained on site until 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Paul McCann, interim vice president of business affairs, said not much has really happened on the investigation so far, and there is currently no news as to what caused the fire.
There are technical people that have been looking at the situation, and there have been two meetings of these groups so far.
Consultants from off-campus, through the various contractors Eastern has used in the past, such as Honeywell, are taking part in the investigation.
McCann said the process would take more time because a complex analysis of the fire has to be done and many things would have to be looked at.
The biomass boiler that caught on fire had not been turned on for a year.
McCann said they turned the biomass boiler on because they were having some issues with the process and they were trying to redesign it.
The university is still heating the campus with the natural gas fire boilers and will continue to heat the campus with natural gas.
The university has been relying for the last year or two on these natural gas fire boilers.
During the fire, a Charleston firefighter sustained steam burns through his protective gear, though these injuries were not severe.
No other injuries were reported from the fire.
According to a press release from the university, there were four Eastern employees on site when the fire happened.
Despite the fire, the Renewable Energy Center was still able to continue producing steam for what university officials called “normal university operations,” such as the fall 2015 commencement ceremonies.
A damage estimate from the university is still pending.