Fire knocks interior resort's power off-line

Chena Hot Springs geothermal plant damaged in blaze

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007

FAIRBANKS - The Chena Hot Springs Resort's geothermal power plant was knocked out by a weekend fire ignited by welding sparks.

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There were no injuries and only minor damage to the building that houses the power plant, according to resort owner Bernie Karl. But the power control system was damaged and will have to be replaced, resort spokeswoman Gwen Holdmann said Sunday.

The goal is to have the system up and running within a month, but it could be sooner, Holdmann said. Until then, the resort is using backup diesel generators to remain fully operational.

The fire broke out about 10 a.m. Saturday, set off by welding sparks from an overhead door being installed in the building.

The resort, 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, features natural hot springs.

It lies outside a fire district. Dispatchers with the Alaska State Division of Forestry were in contact with the resort and would have responded if surrounding wildlands were threatened. If the resort had reported any injuries, paramedics from Steese Volunteer Fire Department would have responded.

Without any help, resort workers were able to put out the blaze in about 90 minutes.

"There's a limited amount of flammable material there as a whole," Holdmann said. "There were never any other buildings in danger."

The diesel generators were the resort's primary power source for years. But several years ago, Karl began to look at the potential of harnessing the hot springs for power.

The technology uses steam to move turbines that create power. Chena Hot Springs, however, could not initially use geothermal technology because the springs are not hot enough to produce steam.

The geothermal plant is used to power most of the resort. About 365,000 gallons of diesel fuel used annually has been gradually replaced by the geothermal unit during the past three years.

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