Experts say solar panels safe, despite Kalihi fire

Hagadone Printing on Puuhale Road

Solar panels save energy, but is there a hidden danger behind them?

Honolulu firefighters were called to Kalihi after some solar panels caught fire Thursday morning.

It happened at around 9:30 a.m. at Hagadone Printing on Puuhale Road. Workers were evacuated as firefighters extinguished the flames.

Fire officials say the fire was relatively small, only six inches high, but crews were forced to take extra precautions.

“We really want to make sure that the scene is safe and we try to turn off all inverters and make sure electricity is shut off before we start to attack a fire like this,” said Capt. Curtis Aiwohi. “It takes a while, but we want to cover all the bases before we start putting our guys in harm’s way.”

Since solar panels are always generating electricity, firefighters proceed with caution because they don’t want to get electrocuted. Aiwohi says it’s helpful if homeowners know exactly where their power panels are, so that step is taken care of quickly.

In this case, firefighters put out the flames 13 minutes after they got there.

Despite this incident, many in the local solar industry say panels are safe and these types of fires are rare.

“There are safety disconnects on the side of each home for fire that clearly define how to shut the system off so it doesn’t prevent any further damage,” explained Chris Debone with Hawaii Energy Connection.

Debone says each solar panel on a home generates very little electricity and the voltage isn’t too high.

He says this is the first solar panel fire he’s heard of in Hawaii and suggests they may have been damaged from an outside source.

Fire officials say they haven’t responded to any type of large photovoltaic fire, but are trained to do so.

“It’s becoming more familiar. All the homes have them now, so we’re getting more used to it,” Aiwohi said, “but it’s still something new in our department.”

Eight solar panels were damaged in Thursday’s fire. Total damage is estimated at $16,000.

hagadone solar panel fire

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