Fuel leak sparks fire at GPL Sophia Station
By Gary Eleazar
Quick action by officials of Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Sophia plant and the Guyana Fire Service yesterday averted disaster after spilt fuel ignited and severely damaging the exterior of a 1.5 megawatt generator set on lease from MACORP.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who was on the scene, told media operatives that he was informed that the fire started from a small heap that was lit outside the northern fence at the site and ignited fuel residue that was in the drain on the outside. The flame made its way into the compound.
He did point out that the fact that there was spilt fuel in the compound raised questions about the manner in which fuel was stored at the site.
The fire damaged the exterior of the set and threatened to ignite three 5, 000-gallon fuel tanks, as well as the wooden housing.
One official at the facility pointed out that it was definitely a severe fuel leak that caused the catastrophe but the Gen Set would be up and running within a matter of days. The fire did not severely affect operations at the facility.
Residents in the area, however, are adamant that there was no fire on the outside giving rise to the question of whether it was faulty wiring or another arson attempt.
One of the residents with whom this newspaper spoke, pointed out that fire was a regular occurrence at the station. “Every three or six months you does hear a big explosion over there and then you does see the fire tender rushing, coming.”
He said that at the time of the fire he was watching television when a relative alerted him to the fire and they rushed out and saw that the fire had already engulfed the drain and the piece of equipment in the compound.
He said that he, along with other residents, started throwing water into the drain in an attempt to douse the flame.
He said that persons were in the habit of dumping garbage there prior, but this practice has since eased. Only recently did people begin dumping garbage again.
The resident was adamant, however, that there was no heap ablaze at the time of the incident.
Another resident, who was in his yard opposite the scene of the fire, concurred that there was no fire on the outside of the compound.
“All we see is smoke and then the whole thing catch up quick, quick.”
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Winston Brassington, who was present and was given the same report as the Prime Minister that the fire started outside the compound.
He said that one man was in on the generator set working and when he emerged he saw the fire and quickly alerted officials.
According to Brassington, apart from the official fire and police investigation, there would be an internal investigation. He was extremely upset with the manner of house keeping, he said. He was referring to the fact that that much fuel was spilt.
Brassington promised that there would be measures put in place to remedy the situation and should persons be found culpable penalties will be levied.
There were several fire officials along with scores of uniformed ranks and detectives.
It was also evident from the look at the damage that the fuel had been spilled over a wide area. In the locale where the fuel was stored there were gallons of fuel within the mound on the ground open to the air.
The fuel from the damaged tank was transferred to the others that were not all filled at the time.
There were even valves leaking at the time and fire officials were trying to plug leaks with pieces of cloth.
This is the second catastrophe to hit GPL that involves fuel this year. The first cost in excess of $3M to clean up.
The fuel spill then, in Kingston, was as a result of a high-pressure suction line failing within the bund wall. This resulted in the discharge of fuel into the drains and streets as well as in the Demerara River.
According to the company, the incident would have informed changes in the routine inspection and maintenance of fuel tanks and in the design of flexible, high-pressure connections.
GPL, through a release following the determination of the spill, said that GPL has already completed a preliminary inspection of all its bulk storage tanks, bund walls and containment areas and will soon undertake a more detailed examination using specialised equipment.
Initially, it was suspected that the bulk storage tank had failed and caused the spill. However, inspection revealed three failures on the bonded area floor where cavities opened and allowed fuel to escape containment.
According to GPL, the total amount of fuel lost is confirmed at 1,950 barrels worth US$97,500.
The Guyana Defence Force (Coast Guard and Air Wing in particular), Guyana Fire Service, Guyana Police Force, Civil Defence Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Public Work and Communications, Sol and Franklin Singh Disposal Services assisted in the cleanup.