Wind farms aren’t a fire risk

Wind farms help prevent and contain fires as wind turbines act as lightning rods in endangered areas and the roads and clearings provide both fire breaks and access routes for firefighters. Wind turbines very rarely catch fire, and when they do, almost never cause fires in their surroundings due to simple and mandated clearing of brush from around their base.

There are a few points of confusion that are worth clearing up.

  1. Wind turbines very rarely catch fire themselves
  2. When they do, they usually don’t cause fires around them
  3. Wind farms aren’t even in the list of causes of fires
  4. Wind turbines help with fire fighting

Wind turbines rarely catch fire

A tiny fraction of a percent of wind turbines world wide have caught fire. As of April 2012, the anti-wind Caithness database contained 185 incidents of fire related to wind farms. These included telephone poles, electrical panels and other non-turbine fires.  A large portion of the incidents were for small, non-utility scale wind turbines, which tend to have a higher portion of accidents of all sorts. In the interests of conservative reporting however, we’ll not only leave all of those obviously excludable incidents in, we’ll increase the incidents to 200.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) there were approximately 240,000 wind turbines operating world wide at the time. This means that a wind turbine has a maximum of a one in 1200 chance of catching fire in its lifetime of 20 years, or about a one in 24,000 chance of catching fire in any given year.

Ketan Joshi, an Australian energy analyst, used all of the data from operating wind farms in that country to determine that wind turbines there have had a total operational lifetime of 5,000 years and three fires. His assessment of risk:

From these data, if you were to stand underneath a randomly selected wind turbine, you’d have to wait approximately 1,693 years before it burst into flames.

Wind turbines just don’t catch fire often enough to worry about.

Wind farm fires rarely cause fires around them

The same Caithness material says that there had been three brush fires caused by wind turbines.  This means that a wind turbine has perhaps a one in 80,000 chance of making anything around it catch fire once in its 20 year lifespan, or about a one in 1.6 million chance in any given year. Wind turbine operators and fire management officials require that the scrub brush around them be cleared back just in case.

So what does cause fires?

According to organizations which study this kind of thing, here are the primary causes of fires:

  • Open Burning 30%,
  • Arson 20%,
  • Smokers 14%,
  • Misc. (house, vehicle, aircraft, etc. that spread to the forest) 11%,
  • Children 9%,
  • Equipment Use 7%,
  • Railroads 5%,
  • Lightning 3%,
  • Campfires 1%

Fires in rural areas are mostly caused by the people who live, work and play in rural areas. They are the ones burning scrub and field debris, they are the ones smoking in rural areas for the most part, they are the ones whose children are running around in rural areas lighting fires and they are the ones whose poorly maintained equipment is catching fire.

As the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council concludes in its 2013 position paper:

This risk from such fires is less than that of many other activities expected in these rural environments.

Wind farms reduce fire risk

Wind farms actually reduce lightning-caused fires on ridge lines by acting as lightning rods and earthing the charge, preventing the lightning from hitting dry trees.

Wind farms assist with fire prevention in many more cases.  Their roads provide access to often inaccessible areas and their cleared areas provide staging areas for firefighting. In fact, there have been situations where the wind farm roads have stopped brushfires in their tracks, such as this instance from the Hallett Stage 5 windfarm in Australia from summer 2011.

A related argument that anti-wind campaigners make is that wind turbines somehow prevent aerial firefighting in the area. This is contradicted directly by firefighting professionals such as the Aviation Manager for Australia’s Country Fire Service, David Pearce:

“Aircraft are only used on a relative minority of fires throughout the fire season, it’s just really another piece of infrastructure in the environment that we just need to be managing on a risk basis when we’re fighting fires,” he said.

“We would treat the wind farms exactly the same way as we treat powerlines that are reasonably high, also radio masts, television towers or even high structures.”

Similarly, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council says:

Aerial fire fighting operations will treat the turbine towers similar to other tall obstacles. Pilots and Air Operations Managers will assess these risks as part of routine procedures. Wind turbines are not expected to pose increased risks due to wake turbulence or the moving blades.

And if you don’t believe this yet, how about these words straight from this Australian senior fire authority’s mouth?

“Our aircraft are operated by high-skilled pilots who make the judgement call when it comes to flying near wind turbines and power lines.

“Wind farms do have the benefit of defined road networks with greater fire breaks for fuel and fire management.”

Or these words from another firefighter?

most firefighters admit that the enhanced access for a Wind Farm will enable much faster crew access to fires on permanently maintained high standard roads through a turbine cluster which will allow faster and easier fire suppression.

It is a fact that climate denial, coal and gas centric anti wind farm lobbyists DO NOT want published that fire suppression will improve in and around a wind farm despite the lack of air support right near the turbines.

It is also a fact that Wind Farm development companies’ have a community fund and at Bungedore a new fire truck was supplied, who would NOT want that benefit in 2013?

It is also a fact that turbines will attract and discharge lightning, therefore, some active strikes will NOT turn into fire as the metal tower discharges the strike into the ground through its inbuilt lightning protection and who would NOT want that?

So where does that leave us?

Believe the people who actually fight fires, not the people opposed to wind turbines. There are very minor risks associated with wind turbines and substantial benefits related to fires. If someone is claiming wind turbines cause fires, it is because they are opposed to wind turbines and are hunting for ammunition.  If they were truly concerned about risks of rural fires, they would be dealing with the real threats.