Electrical malfunction sparks powerhouse fire
by Jessica Loeding
May 20, 2014 | 2606 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Smoke billows from the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse, right, Monday afternoon after an electrical malfunction caused a fire in the lower level of the structure. JASON LOWREY/The Daily Tribune News
Smoke billows from the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse, right, Monday afternoon after an electrical malfunction caused a fire in the lower level of the structure. JASON LOWREY/The Daily Tribune News
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Bartow and Cartersville fire personnel continue “mopping up” about 8:15 p.m. after a blaze began in the lower level of the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse Monday. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow and Cartersville fire personnel continue “mopping up” about 8:15 p.m. after a blaze began in the lower level of the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse Monday. JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
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An electrical malfunction caused a fire below ground level at the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse on Monday afternoon.

Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap said Bartow County and Cartersville fire department crews arrived about 3:45 p.m. to find black smoke rolling from the building.

“Our crews did arrive to find heavy smoke showing. After talking with workers here, it was determined there had been some renovations going on as they rehabbed the electrical system here within the powerhouse,” Millsap said. “They had just re-energized the building when there appeared to be some kind of arc, which we believe started the fire. Basically the smoke was coming from the insulation on the wires themselves.”

The power to the structure was killed before crews made entry, finding the blaze several levels below the ground-level entrance.

“It was several layers down. As you can easily tell, we are in a kind of a canyon here. So what we would consider ground level — it was several levels down from that,” Millsap said.

More than 60 fire personnel were on scene at one point in Monday’s operations, with Bartow County Fire Department calling for mutual aid from Cartersville Fire Department and recalling the shift on duty Sunday.

At 8:30 p.m. crews were “mopping up” — checking for hot spots using thermal imaging technology and looking for additional elements of fire.

The blaze did not interrupt operations at the dam itself.

“They have restored emergency power to the dam itself so that all floodgates and all those measures are in place. We want to make sure everyone understands there was no risk to the dam itself. The powerhouse is a separate structure,” Millsap said.

The magnitude of Monday’s fire made the task greater for personnel.

“You know, whenever you’re going on multiple levels and things like that, there’s always inherent danger, period. It’s compounded when you’re dealing with the smoke environment as well as just the sheer blackness of it,” Millsap said. “These are still things we are involved with in any other fire that we are fighting because, obviously, the power is cut whenever we fight a house fire or something like that. You run into things like this, not generally on this scale.”

Further complicating matters Monday was the lack of a fire hydrant. Located roughly a 1 1/2 miles from U.S. Highway 41 on Allatoona Dam Road, crews lacked access to a hydrant near the powerhouse — the nearest being located at the intersection of Highway 41. The departments worked to move water from the river at the boat ramp at Riverside Day Use Area.

“As you already know, we carry a significant amount of water on each of our trucks, so ... we had to set up drafting operations where we basically set up on of our trucks, we were able to pull water from the river that we will then shuttle up to be used on this fire,” Millsap said.

Construction on the dam was authorized in 1944. It began full operations in January 1950, with the final cost totaling $31.5 million at that time.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received stimulus funds in April 2010 to replace and upgrade the heating ventilation and air conditioning equipment at the powerhouse, with $818,979 awarded. An additional $454,943 in stimulus funds was allocated in May 2010 for asbestos abatement and component replacement at the powerhouse, and just over $200,000 was earmarked for the removal of existing, supply and installation of the new gantry crane. In September 2012, $315,280 in stimulus funds was awarded for the installation of unitrol static excitation system at the Allatoona Dam Powerhouse.