The linear accelerator at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at 2575 Sand Hill Road was in operation at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday (June 25) when smoke from an apparent electrical fire darkened the area where the housing for the two-mile long accelerator passes under Interstate 280.
The two-alarm fire was quickly contained. Had it not been, firefighters from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District were prepared to call the California Highway Patrol to request that the freeway be shut down, Division Chief Frank Fraone told the Almanac. "That was our next call," he said.
The fire damaged supporting equipment, but not the accelerator itself, Mr. Fraone said.
The fire was contained by 10:30 p.m. and there were no injuries, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in a statement.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, all they could see was dark smoke, according to Mr. Fraone. The thick smoke hid the building as well as the freeway above it.
Fire officials worked with accelerator staff to determine the source of the smoke, de-energize the accelerator and shut down equipment as needed to allow safe access. In addition, they closed smoke control doors to isolate the affected area, Chief Schapelhouman said.
The smoke diminished after accelerator staff shut off the electricity to the switch box believed to be at the center of the fire, Mr. Fraone said. The switch box, which measures 8 feet by 10 feet by 3 feet, carried "extremely high voltage" and had high-technology equipment inside it, he said.
Menlo Park firefighters visit SLAC frequently and are "very, very familiar" with the entire accelerator facility, Mr. Fraone said.
Firefighters used seven large mobile carbon dioxide extinguishing carts at the site to suppress the fire, he said. Once the voltage was off, the firefighters extinguished burning insulation and plastic, Mr. Fraone said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The second alarm was called as a precaution, Chief Schapelhouman said. "Our crews have been well trained in the protocols and techniques needed to suppress and control fires at this facility."
SLAC representatives meet monthly with the district's prevention bureau and quarterly with Chief Schapelhouman to discuss all incidents at the site.
Stanford University operates the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which opened in 1962, and is one of 10 laboratories overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.