Coal Fire Smolders On at County Grounds Power Plant

Fire ignites early Sunday in hopper high in power plant structure, and electrical concerns limit options of firefighters after airport foam fails to smother it.


A fire that ignited Sunday morning inside a coal hopper on the sixth floor of the We Energies power plant on the County Grounds continues to burn after a day of efforts to put it out, and it may be days more before it can be fully extinguished, the Wauwatosa fire chief said.

The ongoing, simmering fire is not thought to pose any danger to the public.

At 7:16 a.m. Sunday, the Fire Department was called to the WE Energies plant on Watertown Plank Road involving about 100 tons of coal in a 25-foot-deep hopper on the sixth floor of the building.

Given the unusual nature of the fire, a foam unit from General Mitchell International Airport Fire Department, a command vehicle from the Oak Creek Fire Department, engines from Brookfield and West Allis fire departments and trucks from North Shore and Greenfield fire departments.

After an assessment of the situation, WE Energies and the various fire department representatives parlayed to plan the best course of action.

Saturation with water did not seem a good option because of the extensive electrical elements immediately below the hopper. So foam from the airport unit was initially pumped to the sixth floor using a 100-foot aerial ladder. 

Firefighters on the sixth floor then used handlines to apply the foam to the hopper containing the burning coal, a statement from Wauwatosa Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said.

"This effort was initially successful in slowing the burning process but had to be stopped due to the danger of water (in the foam) impacting electrical panels on lower floors," Ugaste said in a release. "We Energies personnel then determined their best course of action would involve plant personnel manually removing the coal from the hopper.

Ugaste said that two companies of Wauwatosa firefighters were still standing by late Sunday to assist with foam application if necessary.

The situation was considered under control, but it was expected to take days to fully resolve. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

The plant is a small one, by utility standards, that was built to supply power to County Grounds institutions; however, it is now part of a larger grid and is not essential to providing uninterrupted power to those hospitals and research centers. We Energies did not report an interruption of power.


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