Explosion in USA on March 31 2016 06:40 AM (UTC).
A Tuesday night fire at Philpott Dam destroyed equipment already slated to be replaced, according to Craig "Rocky" Rockwell, operations project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rockwell said, one of the switches that carries electricity from the dam's generators to the power grid exploded, causing a fire in the control room. No one was in the control room at the time. The blast took place in the basement of the powerhouse along Spillway Road in Henry County and was under control within an hour, Bassett Fire Chief Junior Lynch said, although crews remained at the dam for several hours. One firefighter was treated for an injury to his hand, Lynch said. The explosion did not cause structural damage to the dam, Rockwell added. At this point, he said, the investigation into what caused the explosion is continuing. However, the switchgear system that was destroyed currently is in the process of being replaced with a more modern system, a project that the Corps has been working on for several months. We're building [a structure] right now that is going to house the new switchgear system," Rockwell said. "The old system had approached its end of life anyway and was being replaced. If you're going to have a system go bad, right when you're in the process of replacing it is not a bad time for it." The system that was destroyed was about 65 years old, Rockwell said. The new system will have more modern safety features and be housed in a separate building to further minimize the chance of injuries in the event of a system failure. It is difficult to put a dollar value on the damage, Rockwell said, considering that the switchgear that was destroyed was scheduled to be junked within weeks. "We're going through a multi-million dollar upgrade," he said. "Did it really cost us any more for the system we're replacing to go down two to three weeks earlier? ... If you were going to demolish a building and some kid came in and broke all the windows out of it before they demolished it, could you really say that the kid did any damage?" As of now, there will be no power generation at the dam until the new switchgear building is completed and the new equipment brought online. Prior to the Tuesday incident, Rockwell said, that switch-over was expected to be completed about mid-June, although Tuesday's fire could change that timeline. "If anything, this might force us to speed up," he said. "Maybe the fact that we don't have to deal with the old system will make it a little quicker to deal with the new, but I really don't know. We're going to be assessing all that through the next day or two." Dominion Power customers will not notice any changes in the meantime, Rockwell said, because Dominion will simply draw power from its other sources, which is a fairly common occurrence. Because the dam will not be generating power for the next several weeks, he said, the Corps will work with its water management team to determine a set level of flow that will maintain a steady level in both Philpott Lake and the Smith River. While the investigation into what happened will continue, Rockwell said, so far, it appears that the fire will have minimal impact. "The majority of the damage is to the stuff that we're replacing, and that's a good thing," he said. "And nobody got hurt, and that's a great thing."