Bahamas — LOUD explosions rocked mainland Abaco on Friday night when a bush fire spread to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation’s Marsh Harbour power plant compound, setting alight drums filled with used oil and posing a threat to the islands’ power supply.
The power station blaze came after days of wild fires raging in pine forests on the mainland tested the island’s six volunteer fire services’ resolve, bringing together the efforts of an estimated 20 to 30 volunteer firefighters and eight fire trucks from throughout the island.
“A lot of the firefighters worked around the clock. Some of them got only about two hours sleep in 48 hours,” said a resident who assisted with the effort.
Volunteers were initially dispatched when a fire started in the Central Pines area on Wednesday, threatening a number of homes in the area and causing the Central Abaco Primary School to shut down for a day due to smoke clouding the area.
Another separate fire was believed to have started in the Great Cistern area of the island, spreading rapidly, aided by a strong breeze, until it reached the BEC power plant in Marsh Harbour in the early evening on Friday.
Along the way, one home received minor structural damage but no one was injured, according to preliminary reports.
The BEC power plant blaze came on the same day that BEC announced it had officially taken over responsibility for the generation of electricity at the $70.8 million Wilson City power plant in Abaco from contractor MAN Diesel.
The power plant is capable of generating 48 megawatts of power and was built to address the unreliability of power generation in the Abaco islands, which has faltered due to the intermittent failure of generation equipment at the Marsh Harbour power plant.
However, the new Wilson City plant has yet to be brought on stream on a full time basis as its ability to fully service power demand in the area remains hampered by the need for an upgraded transmission line linking it to Marsh Harbour.
The contract for the installation of that cable has been put out to tender and BEC has said it hopes the line will be in place in time for Wilson City to serve peak summer power demand in Abaco.
However, in the event it is not completed in time, BEC Chairman Michael Moss and Environment Minister Earl Deveaux have stated that BEC will rely on continued use of generators at the Marsh Harbour power plant to supplement the power supplied and ensure demand is fully met.
BEC Chairman Michael Moss said yesterday that this plan remains intact as the old BEC plant suffered “no major damage per se” as a result of the fire, with the oil drums in one portion of the compound having caught alight but the generation equipment being spared.
He confirmed that immediately after the fire a bulldozer entered the area and “extended the firebreaker” around the plant, clearing down any remaining bush that could carry a wildfire towards the plant.
“There should be a firebreaker,” he said, adding that he could not speak to the adequacy of the protective measures prior to the fire.
Yesterday, sources on the island suggested more could have been done before the blaze reached the plant to ensure the compound did not catch alight, including clearing down the bush surrounding the facility in advance. One source questioned what systems BEC had in place to deploy in the event of a petroleum fire at the plant, adding that BEC itself appeared to have played no part in addressing the fire.
A further hindrance to the firefighting effort came from a limited water supply from which to fill the trucks which were attending the fire, The Tribune understands. Requests allegedly put to the Water and Sewerage Corporation on Thursday to increase the water pressure in the area so that fire trucks could be refilled with water to fight the fires on a more prompt basis were not responded to until the following day, when the water also cut off entirely for a period of time, said a source involved with the efforts to tackle the fires.
This slowed down the firefighters response to the blaze.
“They said the lack of water was because we were using it to fight the fires, but the capacity of that plant is 750,000 gallons. Each one of those trucks can hold no more than 3,000 gallons, so I doubt that,” said a source, who did not wish to be identified.
The Water and Sewerage Corporation could not be reached for comment up to press time.
The cause of the fires was not clear yesterday. Attempts to reach police fire officials in Marsh Harbour were not successful.