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Fire at energy storage facility in Otay Mesa prompts evacuation warning

A fire at an energy storage facility in Otay Mesa that houses lithium-ion batteries triggered an evacuation warning for nearby businesses and lockdown orders at a state prison on Wednesday, a Cal official said Fire.

Inmates and staff at the Richard J. Donovan State Prison were asked to shelter in place due to potential fire danger. For several hours, people working in buildings at a nearby business park and employees at the Otay Mesa Energy Center were also under an evacuation warning, Cal Fire Capt. Brent Pascua said.

The George F. Bailey Detention Center was not affected by the orders, sheriff’s officials and Pascua said.

A witness reported seeing smoke rising from one of the buildings at the Gateway energy storage facility on Camino De La Fuente around 3:45 p.m., Pascua said.

When firefighters arrived, they did not immediately enter the building because lithium batteries can heat up quickly. Authorities feared the fire and chemicals would spread to nearby buildings, he said.

Firefighters sent a drone equipped with a camera and an unmanned robot into the building to assess conditions. The robot tested air quality and showed it was unsafe to send firefighters into the building, he said.

Pascua said firefighters planned to work through the night to pump water into the building’s sprinkler system.

“The building is still standing,” Pascua said. “You wouldn’t even know there was a fire in there.” From time to time, we see a puff of smoke coming out. »

Around 6:35 p.m., authorities issued an evacuation warning to people within a few blocks of the intersection of Alta Road and Paseo De La Fuente, where the battery storage facility is located. The warning was lifted at 10:20 p.m.

“These precautions are because batteries are very unpredictable,” Pascua said. “They react with air and water. It takes a long time to put them out, and if there are a lot of them, it can be a very dangerous situation.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

This is not the first time a fire has broken out at a battery storage facility in the area.

In September 2023, a fire broke out at a storage site in Valley Center. Firefighters extinguished the fire in about 45 minutes, but businesses and homes within 400 meters of the site were evacuated while others within 800 meters were ordered to shelter. on the spot.

The 250-megawatt Gateway energy storage facility is owned and operated by LS Power, a New York-based energy company with an office in California. When it opened in 2020, Gateway was the largest battery storage project in the world.

The facility provides electricity by storing low-cost, clean energy from midday solar generation hours for use during evening peak hours, according to the LS Power website.

California Daily Newspapers

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