Solar panels pose increasing threat to Fresno firefighters

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Fresno firefighters are encountering more solar projects, and solar panels can be extremely dangerous while fighting fires. (KFSN)

Fresno firefighters are encountering more solar projects, and solar panels can be extremely dangerous while fighting fires.

Friday, firefighters fought a fire at a Northwest Fresno home, where Fresno Fire Department spokesman Pete Martinez says heavy smoke and flames weren't the only hazards for firefighters on scene.

"One of the safety concerns we had that kind of slowed down our operation mode was the fact we were dealing with solar and we had to take those into consideration," Martinez said.

Martinez says solar panels can present problems like not being able to create proper ventilation through a roof or simply not leaving enough space for firefighters to work. But the biggest concern is the risk of electrocution.

"Those lines between the solar panels and those actual boxes where you can stop the flow of electricity is our concern," Martinez said.

But solar expert Ty Simpson says if the solar panels were installed within the last several years, there should be an AC disconnect on the roof. He says it's best to shut off both the main breakers and the AC disconnect box.

"But if you want to make all your wires dead or just not have any AC power running through the attic for any safety hazards because of a fire, that AC disconnect, if it's placed on the roof, blocks that power running from that [solar] array to electrical box," Simpson said.

Simpson works for Bland Solar, which averages about 22 installations each week. Business is going so well, they're opening a new showroom in Clovis next month.

Meanwhile, Fresno firefighters are encountering more solar projects while fighting fires, and are now training for all potential hazards they might encounter.

"If we can prevent the fire from damaging those solar panels, then we'll do that," said Martinez. "But we can't have it inhibit the way we fight fires."

Simpson says sometimes the AC disconnect box is on the side of a home, but if that home is in Fresno or Clovis, it must be on the roof.
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firehouse firefirefighterssolar energyelectrocutionfresnofresno countyFresnoClovis
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