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HAZMAT situation at Chandler battery storage facility causes quarter-mile area evacuation

Chandler Evacuation area.jpeg
Posted at 4:53 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 01:26:16-04

CHANDLER — Chandler Fire Department has been investigating a hazardous situation at a lithium battery storage facility near 54th Street and Pecos Road since Monday, officially calling for evacuations Thursday evening.

The facility, owned by Applied Energy Services, is located within a Salt River Project substation. An AES representative said there are over 3,200 lithium-ion batteries within the building, containing a total of 10 mega-watts of energy.

During a press conference, Chandler fire confirmed there was a battery on fire in the building, but the sprinkler systems inside were able to control the fire, but not completely extinguish it.

Keith Welch, Battalion Chief at Chandler Fire Department said, "We took a defensive strategy and for us that means we're not going to open the door and go in with out personnel to take a look because we know some of the potential hazards of the battery degradation and the off-gassing and the different hazards that can cause."

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Earlier in the week, business owners noticed something was off.

Chris Kinzy, owner of Southwest Auto Care said, "It was just terrible. I mean it would make your eyes water, your throat kind of swell up. It was bad."

Businesses within about a quarter-mile area were notified to evacuate the area by 6 p.m. Thursday night as a precaution, according to officials.

Following the evacuation, officials were able to use a robot to safely open a door of the facility to allow highly flammable gases to leave the building and dissipate into the air.

Welch said, "We've had a fire suppression system going for four days that has kept the atmosphere cool in there which is what we want to do. But it has not put out the fire that the batteries will keep smoldering."

Friday morning, officials will use robots to check the temperature inside the building and measure any gasses still contained inside before sending in firefighters.

SRP was using the battery facility to reduce its carbon footprint for some customers.

Scott Harelson, spokesperson for SRP said, "We use energy off the grid overnight when we have excess energy. They charge those batteries overnight and then those batteries dispatch that energy the next day when our resources are really tight and when demand is high."

SRP says customers will not be impacted by the fire, but they are keeping an eye on nearby transmission lines.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.