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Biomass One power plant down after fire

The plant at Biomass One hasn't generated power since a two-alarm fire broke out early Wednesday afternoon.

A team of experts will inspect the plant today to find out why a generator circuit breaker cabinet caught fire near the turbine room at the wood debris-fired power plant at about 12:30 p.m. The fire never spread outside the cabinet, located on the second floor of the concrete 30-megawatt plant, according to Biomass One General Manager Kurt Lumpkin. 

“We were able to keep the fire contained to that cabinet,” Lumpkin said.

So far, Lumpkin knows that components in the breaker cabinet got super-heated. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters monitored the cabinet for about 20 minutes watching for sporadic flareups. 

Contrary to early reports, no employees needed to be evacuated during the fire, according to Lumpkin. The fire closed Avenue G for about 45 minutes while six engines from Jackson County Fire District 3 and Medford Fire-Rescue responded.

It was previously reported a gaseous fire suppression system helped mitigate damage, but Lumpkin said the system was not active in the second-floor breaker room and never needed to be activated.

When the fire broke, breaker protection systems automatically separated the plant from the power grid, according to Lumpkin. The plant couldn't receive power until about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and still isn't producing power.

"We're not generating right now," Lumplin said. "We have to make sure we can do so safely."

Lumpkin couldn't yet estimate when the plant would be operational again, nor was he able to estimate costs from the damage and losses caused by the fire.

Technical experts will inspect the entire system today to determine the root cause of the fire and outline repairs.

"They actually have the diagnostic equipment that will tell us exactly," Lumpkin said.

Once all components in the plant are tested and operational, getting back online is a technical challenge in and of itself.

“These are big, complex machines,” Lumpkin said. “You can’t just flip a switch and they come on and off.”

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Inspectors look over an electric station after a nearby turbine building caught fire Wednesday at Biomass in White City. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta