CHANDLER, Ariz. - Neighboring businesses are on alert as firefighters continue to monitor a lithium battery storage facility. A fire that has been smoldering since April 18 prompted evacuations and road closures on April 21, but things are back open - for now.
It's been five days and this situation is far from over. Crews have been using robots to open the doors and air out the facility of dangerous chemicals.
The fire department recommended businesses that are within a quarter mile of the building to evacuate, which is located near 54th Street and Pecos Road. Locals are being advised to leave by 12:30 p.m.
56th Street will be closed between Frye and Allison Roads, officials said. The evacuation concluded on the night of April 29.
Map showing the area where people are being recommended to evacuate by 12:30 p.m. on April 29, 2022, due to a venting of a building where a battery storage facility fire happened.
For Mary Jones, it was an interesting work week. Jones has watched the whole situation unfold from her office across the street from the AES Battery Warehouse.
"It’s a little concerning, especially when they explain that it could totally go up and take all of our businesses.. it’s very much of a worry, and they’ve told us very little."
Investigators say the battery fire broke out Monday morning. So far, an internal sprinkler system has been keeping the more than 3,000 batteries cool as they continue to smolder and smoke.
The AES facility is a private company that promotes renewable clean energy. Salt River Project (SRP) has a contract with them to purchase the energy storage. Officials spoke at a news conference on Thursday.
"Right now, we really don't anticipate any impact to SRP customers because of this situation," said SRP's Scott Harelson.
AES' Mark Miller added, "It’s a little early to speculate the cause because I know that’s the logical question people will have, but what I would ask at this point is that we kind of take measures. Our focus right now is safe and efficient management of the situation at hand. That’s what’s most important."
But in the back of Jones' mind is a battery fire, then an explosion in 2019 that left several firefighters injured in Peoria. Because of that incident, the Chandler Fire Department says they're not taking any chances.
"I'm grateful for them because I think they really were trying, but they just didn't know what to do."
Fire prompts evacuations
Firefighters are keeping a close eye on a lithium battery storage facility near 56th Street, southeast of Interstate 10 and Loop 202.
Smoke was first spotted coming from the AES Battery Warehouse on Monday, and it hasn't stopped. On Thursday evening, crews shut down roads and evacuated nearby businesses as a precaution.
There's no word yet on what caused the fire. Roads are back open and business owners can return to the area, but the fight isn't over yet. This is only the first part and more closures may happen on Friday.
"It is a very crazy situation, yeah, definitely, said Chris Kinzy.
At his workplace across the road, Kinzy has been watching the smoke trickle out of the battery storage facility for the last few days, but it wasn't until April 21 that he got the notification to evacuate the area.
"The best way I can describe it is like a burnt out electrical motor or something.. it smells really bad."
Investigators say a battery fire broke out Monday and internal sprinkler system inside the building is keeping the batteries cool as they smolder and continue to smoke. You can see water spewing out of the door frame.
The AES facility is a private company that promotes renewable, clean energy. Salt River Project (SRP) has a contract with them to purchase the energy storage.
"We've had a fire suppression system going for four days that had kept the atmosphere cool in there, which is what we want to do, but it has not put out the fire. The batteries keep smoldering," said Battalion Chief Keith Welch of the Chandler Fire Department.
This isn't the first battery fire to happen in the Valley. Back in 2019, four Peoria firefighters were injured after a battery fire caused an explosion.
The Chandler Fire Department says they're not taking any chances.
During the two-hour evacuation on Thursday, crews used a robot to open the doors and air out the facility of flammable chemicals.
"I think we learned some from the incident that happened in Peoria and we spoke specifically with firefighters that were on that scene and so that was one of the things that crossed our minds the second that we got on scene. So we never had a thought of going in that building again it was going to be a defensive approach," said Welch.