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Blaze at Somerset power plant sends multiple fire companies to scene

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AES plant FINANCIAL AES PLANT LEWIS

The Somerset Operating Co. power plant was originally built by New York State Electric & Gas Corp. in 1979.

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One firefighter was injured Friday after a fire that erupted during demolition work at the dormant Somerset power plant filled the sky with black smoke.

The injured firefighter was treated at a local hospital, according to a news release from the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. It took six hours to bring the blaze under control.

"We have a good handle on the fire," a Barker Fire Company assistant chief broadcast at 10:54 a.m., about an hour and a half after the first 911 call was made.

The comment was audible on a YouTube channel that carries Niagara County scanner traffic.

However, nearly two hours later, firefighters still were pouring water on the blaze, with radio transmissions indicating that firefighters asked the Town of Somerset to try to provide more water pressure.

A nearby resident told The Buffalo News that black smoke was visible, coming from the plant's smokestack.

The Sheriff’s Office said the first firefighters on the scene “observed large amounts of black smoke and visible flames coming from the top of one of the power plant modules in the flue gas desulfurization building.”

The release said that John Mason, the operations manager on the scene, reported that “his employees were cutting a hole into a flange of the building in order to place an anchor and tear down the module. While cutting the hole, the rubber liner on the interior of the building started on fire. The fire spread to the wood platform and plastic chevrons inside the building, creating a large amount of black smoke.”

Mason told officials that all employees were evacuated and accounted for.

After the fire was extinguished, firefighters remained on the scene as a precaution during demolition of the affected building, the news release said. A radio transmission from the scene announced at 3:28 p.m. that “the building is down.” Fifteen minutes later, a firefighter broadcast, "All active fire is out."

It was after 3 p.m. before traffic on Lake Road, where the plant was located, began to be reopened. The road, which is part of Route 18, had been blocked between Hess and Hosmer roads.

The first fire companies sent to the scene were Barker, Olcott, Gasport, Hartland and Lyndonville. An Olcott ambulance also was summoned, along with a fire crew from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and tanker trucks from three Orleans County fire companies – Shelby, Ridgeway and Carlton. In addition, fire police from Wrights Corners were used to block traffic.

A Niagara County cause and origin team was summoned to investigate the fire.

The 675-megawatt power plant, originally built by New York State Electric & Gas Corp. in 1983, was the last active coal-burning power plant in New York State. Its 613-foot-tall smokestack could be seen from as far away as Buffalo on clear days.

The plant closed in early 2020, and nearly 100 workers were laid off.

Beowulf Energy, the owners, announced plans in the summer for a cryptocurrency data mining operation, under the name of Lake Mariner Data LLC, which was to be placed in four newly constructed buildings. Beowulf did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Before the data mining plan was announced, plans also had been announced by AES Corp. for a 1,000-acre solar power installation on the plant property, which covers 1,800 acres on both sides of Lake Road.

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