Bassett fire started in electrical switch boxes, caused $2.5 to $3 million in damages

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BASSETT (WSLS 10) - At about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, an alarm started going off inside the powerhouse on the back side of Philpott Dam.

When an employee arrived to check on the alarm, he noticed smoke coming from inside the building.

"We arrived to find smoke coming from a large roll up door and a small entry door," said Bassett Volunteer Fire Department Chief Junior Lynch.

The fire had broken out in the basement of the building where Lynch said it started in some cabinets that housed some electrical switch boxes and was likely sparked by arching wires.

He said firefighters couldn't use their water to fight the fire until the Army Corps of Engineers arrived and shut off power to the dam.

It took 45 minutes to get the fire under control and about 30 firefighters were on scene. Crews stayed for four hours and one firefighter was treated for an injury to his hand.

"At the start of our initial attack on the fire, we did not use any water. We used dry-chem fire extinguishers," Chief Lynch explained.

Much of the electrical equipment in the basement was destroyed by the fire, but Philpott Lake's Operations Manager Craig Rockwell said that's okay because the equipment was about to be taken out and thrown away anyway.

"What we know is damaged is the switch gear system that is being replaced by the construction that you see going on behind me now," Rockwell pointed out. "So, if we were going to have a system blow this is the time to do it because we're in the process of finishing the building that we'll be moving the new system into."

Rockwell says the damaged equipment was about 65 years old and is past due to be replaced.

Dominion Power, which buys the power from the dam, will now have to get that power from somewhere else until construction is complete and power has been restored to the dam. Rockwell says he expects the construction to be completed in the next two to three months.

Lynch says damages are estimated at $2.5 to $3 million because of all the electrical pieces that were damaged.

There will be no electrical generation from now until the new switchgear building is finished and the new equipment is placed online, according to Rockwell. According to Corps officials, this may be as long as eight months or longer.

About the Author:

Colter Anstaett joined WSLS in January 2016 as the station’s Southside bureau reporter.