FutureMetrics paper discusses fighting, preventing storage fires

By Erin Voegele | December 08, 2017

FutureMetrics has released a new white paper focused on best practices for fighting and preventing fires in wood pellet storage domes and silos. The paper, authored by John Swaan, senior operations expert at FutureMetrics, also discusses how these best practices were used to successfully resolve a silo fire at Pacific BioEnergy’s 350,000-metric-ton-per-year pellet plant in Price George, British Columbia, during August 2017.

According to the white paper, smoke from smoldering wood pellets inside the Pacific BioEnergy silo was first noticed on Aug. 23. The silo contained 3,500 metric tons of pellets. Over a seven-day period, the fire was controlled and extinguished. The silo was also saved and there was no injury or loss of life.

Swaan notes that more than $500,000 worth of pellets were damaged during the incident. However, there was no damage to the plant infrastructure. While the silo did not collapse, the white paper indicates it will be demolished due to uncertainty over its structural integrity.

“Credit for this successful outcome belongs to the Pacific BioEnergy management and operations team, and the first responders from the Prince George fire department; all of whom followed a carefully crafted plan for controlling and extinguishing the fire,” wrote Swaan in the paper.

The white paper outlines several actions not to take during a silo or dome fires. First, while noting that water may help control flames associated with an out-of-control silo fire, Swann stresses that deluging or spraying water on pellets in a silo, dome or flat storage will not help extinguish a smouldering mass of wood pellets. The paper also warns against removing pellets from the silo, dome or flat storage before pyrolysis activity within the core of the pile has been extinguished.

Rather, Swaan said it is important to have a plan based on best practices, and to train the local fire department on how to respond to this type of incident. Swaan also stresses that inert gas injection significantly lowers the probability of negative outcomes, including gas and/or dust explosions. “Nitrogen is most effective for minimize these risks and provides a low risk pathway to gain control of the smoldering pyrolysis inside the pile while emptying the material,” he wrote. In addition, Swaan highlights the importance of being prepared to detect and control silo and dome fires. “Monitoring, detection, and suppression systems must be installed and maintained in good working order,” he wrote.

A full copy of the white paper can be downloaded from the FutureMetrics website