Wind generating power plants, also known as wind farms, have the potential for providing electricity to areas throughout the United States with little reliance on fossil fuels to provide for growing energy demands. According to an article in Wind Systems online magazine, Turbine Fire Protection, “Today the market is estimated to be worth $60 billion annually, with global wind capacity expected to double every three years.” The location of these wind turbines in corridors where there are high winds to create the electricity also creates a risk for a fire to spread into the nearby vegetation. There have been a couple of documented vegetation fires that have been started at wind farms like the View Fire which occurred in Riverside County, California in 2012 and burned more than 300 acres.
Within NFPA's codes and standards, NFPA 850: Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct Current Converter Stations describes how alternative power suppliers can mitigate the risk of the facility to loss from fire and or explosion. Wind turbines can ignite from lightning strikes just like a tree, as well as from mechanical failure, combustion of the hydraulic fluid in the turning part of the nacelle, or failure in the electrical system and braking system.
Besides installing fire suppression systems in the turbine itself, an article titled, Wind Turbines and Wildfires; is Your Wind Farm in Danger? provides some ideas of how to prevent the spread of fire from the turbine to the landscape. In the article, author Dr. Robert W. Wittlesey states, "Another means of protecting wind turbines from wildfires is to install and maintain a firebreak around the turbine. This is an area of land where vegetation and organic matter (i.e., fuel for the fire) is removed in order to prohibit or significantly reduce the spread of a wildfire. A firebreak is an important tool to have before a fire occurs: It would help limit the spread of a wind-turbine-generated fire and could even help protect a wind turbine exposed to a wildfire. The area and dimensions of the firebreak would have to be designed specific to that wind farm, as the firebreak’s size would depend on the type of falling debris expected during a fire and also the makeup of the vegetation on the ground.”
An interesting map that provides an overlay of where wind farms are located in relation to wildfire risk generated by the US Geological Survey highlights areas where these facilities could collaborate with local authorities having jurisdiction to mitigate risk.