Firefighters from two stations spent over twelve hours dealing with a ‘small’ fire in a coal bunker at the country’s largest and only coal-burning electricity generating station.
The fire broke out on Wednesday evening at the ESB’s power plant at Moneypoint near Kilrush in Co Clare. The alarm was raised shortly after 5.00pm after staff at the plant noticed “early indications of combustion” in the coal storage bunker.
What was described as a “small fire in coal bunker” was reported to the Munster Regional Fire Control Centre in Limerick. Two fire-fighting appliances and a 4×4 vehicle were dispatched to the scene from Kilrush fire station while an additional appliance and 4×4 were subsequently mobilised from Kilkee.
It’s understood that staff at the plant, who routinely monitor temperatures in the coal bunkers, became concerned about rising temperatures and raised the alarm. It’s known that the company has its own procedures in place to to deal with such contingencies which are a known hazard of coal storage.
On Wednesday evening, Clare County Fire and Rescue Service was requested to assist while plant workers dealt with and monitored the situation. Fire crews remained at the scene overnight as a precaution and to assist Moneypoint staff, dousing the coal with water on several occasions.
An ESB spokesman said: “The fire service attended Moneypoint on Wednesday evening. High temperatures had been observed in a coal storage bunker and there were early indications of combustion within the bunker.
As per our procedures, station staff contacted the local fire service immediately and they subsequently attended site and applied water to the coal and remained on site in a monitoring capacity. No plant was damaged and there were no injuries to any personnel,” the company said.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) confirmed they were notified of the incident.
There have been several similar incidents over the years at the same facility. Coal is susceptible to self-combust as a result of being compressed by its own weight in massive bunkers that hold thousands of tonnes of the fuel.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said: “The licensee contacted the EPA by phone, at 09:28am on 19/12/2019 regarding an incident arising from an observation by a site operative of smouldering coal in bunker bay hopper 2C (Unit 2), at 17:00 on the 18/12/2019.”
“As a precaution, local fire services were contacted and reached the site at 17:25. The licensee informed the EPA that water was initially sprayed on the coal to dampen it, minimal fire water was used, and all fire water was contained within the bunker and relevant feeder/mill.
The fire services remained on site as a precautionary measure until 07:00 on 19/12/2019 before demobilising. As a corrective action, the licensee will remove all coal in the bunker bay to the coal stock yard on the 20/12/19 and this area will be closely monitored in the interim. The EPA monitors all actions undertaken in response to this incident,” the spokesperson added.