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ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

WILD FIRE FAULTS ON 765 KV LINES MODELLED CONDITIONS AND ELECTRICAL PERFORMANCE
1

P H Pretorius 1*, D Muftic 1


Trans-Africa Projects, P O Box 6583, Halfway House, Midrand 1685, South Africa.
*Email: pieter@taprojects.co.za

Abstract: The performance of high voltage power lines can significantly be affected by wild (veld)
fires. This is also the case in South Africa where new 765 kV double circuit lines are being
designed for high power transfer. These operation-critical lines demand high electrical reliability.
This paper covers the application of a software flame model (using ELECTRO) and its application
to explain the flame induced flashover experienced on an existing 765 kV line in South Africa. The
paper then proposes application of the same fire conditions in the case of the new 765 kV double
circuit structure and highlights the increased reliability achieved in the design of the double circuit
line, with increased conductor to ground clearance. The paper also affirms the value of software
modelling as engineering tool and its application in high voltage power line design.

1.

INTRODUCTION

1.1

Background

network to the risk of loss of two or more circuits


simultaneously or in rapid succession. The most likely
cause of a common cause failure is bush or grass (wild)
fires [1].

The performance of high voltage power lines can


significantly be affected by both sugar cane and wild
(veld) fires (Figure 1). Because sugar cane fires are
better controlled through co-ordination with sugar cane
farmers, the focus of this paper is on wild fires. Fires
are particularly relevant to the context of new 765 kV
double circuit lines, designed and built for high power
transfer, in South Africa. Approaches in the
development of these lines are ultimately directed at
threat-tolerant designs, with specific interest as far as
common cause failures are concerned.

Eskoms operating experience shows that a wild fire, in


a power corridor with two or more lines, of sufficient
intensity to cause one line to trip generally causes trips
on most, if not all, the lines in the corridor, even if the
trips do not occur simultaneously [1].
Servitude management forms an integral part of
Eskoms approach in preventing line failures that may
result from wild fires and includes the removal of trees,
shrubs and tall grass from under the lines [2].
2.

FIRE INDUCED FLASHOVERS

2.1 Wild Fire Characteristics


Fire line intensity is perhaps one of the best single
descriptors and parameters of fire behaviour and in
comparing fires with each other [3]. However, it is
quite difficult to accurately measure the required
variables required to characterise fire line intensity, in
the field [3].
The fires behaviour and in particular, its intensity, is a
function of weather conditions (humidity and wind
speed), fuel characteristics (density, type and moisture
content) and topography where the fire occurs.

Figure 1: Fire (sugar cane) passing underneath an


overhead line, showing flame height (Courtesy:
Eskom).

Fire line intensity (Byrams fire line intensity or frontal


fire intensity), is the rate of heat energy released per
unit time per unit length of fire front, regardless of the
depth of the flame zone, and it is calculated as the
product of available fuel energy and the fires rate of
advance [2,3]:

This paper covers the application of a software flame


model (by using ELECTRO) to explain the flame
induced flashover experienced on an existing 765 kV
line, as well as to address the behaviour of a new 765
kV double circuit line, presently being developed,
under the same fire conditions.

I = H .w.r

1.2 Common Cause Failure


where

A common cause failure (CCF) is presented in the case


where one (double circuit) line, two (single circuit)
lines (or more) in a common corridor expose the

Pg. 1

I = Fire line intensity (kW/m).


H = fuel low heat of combustion (kJ/kg).

Paper E-54

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

w = weight of fuel consumed per unit area


in the active flaming zone (kg/m2).
r = rate of spread (m/s).

electrons proportional to the flame temperature and


their ionisation potential. These include K, Na, Ca
and C [5].

It is notable that fire intensity positively correlates with


flame height. Further, that leaf scorch height is
potentially a useful index for measuring fire intensity
retrospectively [4].

ii) Chemi-ionisation (due to dissociation reactions): As


examples [5],

Fire line intensity may vary significantly and mainly


because of the potential variation in rate of spread,
from about 15 to 100,000 kW/m [3]. However, most
fire intensities seldom exceed 50,000 kW/m and most
crown fires fall within the range of 10,000-30,000
kW/m [3]. Low intensity surface fires are generally
less than 550 kW/m with fire line intensities above
4000 kW/m generally characterised as "high intensity"
[3].

K + CO + O <=> K+ + e- + CO2

CaO + CO <=> Ca+ + e- + CO2

with potassium the dominant contributor because of its


lower ionisation potential. Very high intensity fires
burning in vegetation with average 0,5% potassium can
have electrical conductivity up to 0,02 S/m. Higher
potassium content of 3% could raise the electrical
conductivity in high intensity flames to 0,05 S/m [5].
Three regions are identified in a wild fire plume model:
The continuous flame region, the intermittent flame
region and the thermal plume region as indicated in
Figure 2 [5]. These regions are dynamically and
physically distinct from each other based on how
temperature, plume velocity and conductivity vary in
space within these regions [5].

Table 1 yields a summary of fire intensities associated


with vegetation type and fuel load.
Table 1: Fuel loads and fire intensities in different
types of vegetation [3].
Vegetation type
Savannah /
grassland
Fynbos
Acacia Cyclops
(Rooikrans)
Australian eucalypt

Fuel Loads
g/m 2
100 1,000

Fire Intensity
kW/m
10,000

1,000 3,000
Max 7,000
9,000

20,000 30,000
20,000 60,000

> 21,000

60,000 Max 100,000

1,500 5,000

60,000 100,000

Typical behaviour of vertical temperature with plume


height and rapid cooling of the plume that occurs in the
thermal plume region (smoke column), is indicated in
Figure 3 [5].

North American
boreal forest

Thermal plume region

A Fire Danger Index (FDI, a relative number denoting


an evaluation of rate of spread of a wild (veld) fire, or
suppression difficulty of a fire, for specific
combinations of fuel, fuel moisture and wind speed) of
76 100 yields flame lengths higher than 2,4 m [2].
The following equation is given to estimate flame
length from fire line intensity [6]:

Intermittent flame region


Continuous flame region
Fuel stratum height

Figure 2: Wild fire plume model [5].

L = 0,0775.I
where

I
L

=
=

0, 46

Despite the complex dynamics in the flame model,


Figure 3 strongly suggests a threshold or boundary in
terms of conductivity (dual conductivity region). The
approach used in the numerical modelling, and
discussed later, is based on a dual region conductivity
model.

fire line intensity (kW/m)


Flame length (m).

Distinction should be made between flame length and


flame height. Flame height, measured from the ground
to the tip of the flame, may be smaller than flame
length when the wind is blowing. Flame length would
be equal to flame height with no wind present and the
flame angle equal to zero.

The electron dense region above the actual flame


height (Figure 3) may explain the contribution of
flames, appearing lower than the phase conductors, and
up-flares and whirls for that matter, to fire induced
flashovers. This does not, however, clearly explain the
increased probability for flashover in the presence of
ash particles [13, 14], (a weakness of the model
discussed later in 2.3 and 3). Understanding the fire
induced flashover-mechanism better and improving the
flame model for numerical modelling purposes will be
the subject of future study.

Flame conductivity is a direct result of ionisation


taking place within the flame [9]. Possible ionisation
mechanisms in wild fires involve:
i) Thermal ionisation (due to high temperatures, up to
2,000oC, in the reaction zone): leading to thermal
excitation of flame particles to produce ions and

Pg. 2

Paper E-54

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

Fire plume height (m)

ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

20 16 12 840-

2002 were shown to be extreme and out of the


ordinary. Recorded FDI values of 79 (Red) and up to
85 were reported [8].
B
Flame height

Fuel stratum height

A: Plume centre line temperature (oC)


B: Plume centre line electron density (m-3)

Figure 3: Typical behaviour of vertical temperature


and electron density with plume height [5].
2.2 A Fire Induced Flashover Case
Figure 5: Area where a flash mark was found close to
tower 35 on the Alpha-Beta No 1 765kV line [8].

The following case of a CCF that occurred on two


existing 765 kV lines in 2002 is noted [7, 8]: On 29
July 2002, two separate wild (veld) fires caused
flashovers on the blue (western) phase of the AlphaBeta No 1 and No 2 lines. The first fault occurred at
11h48 on the Alpha-Beta No 2 765kV line and was
reported based on flash marks found between towers
670 and 671 in the Virginia area (see Figure 4) [7] .

The fire induced flashovers on the 765kV lines noted


above with, 702B tower structures, are extremely rare
due to large phase to phase (15,4 m) and phase ground
(minimum 15 m) clearances. Veld conditions under the
line were not excessive but moderate and would under
most conditions not be considered a fire risk. Extreme
flame lengths and fire whirls, capable of bridging the
ground clearance, were largely considered responsible
for the fire faults, rather than the condition of the
vegetation alone [8]. This is in agreement with the
arguments presented earlier and in context with Fig 3.
2.3

Theoretical Models

Sukhnandan and Hoch (2002) [9] discussed various


theoretical models for fire induced flashover of
transmission lines. The models covered were:
The Reduced Air Density Theory;
Particle Initiated Flashover and
The Flame Conductivity Theory.

Figure 4: Area where the fire occurred (29 July 2002)


between towers 664 (foreground) to tower 666 on the
Alpha-Beta No2 765kV line [7].

Sukhnandan and Hoch [9] selected the Flame


Conductivity Theory for further study because of the
following reasons provided:

The Fire Danger Index (FDI) reached a value of 79


(Red) on 29th of July 2002 in this area. (An average
FDI value, higher than 75, statistically only occurs on
0,8 days per season under average prevailing
conditions at the time of the fault [7]).

The Reduced Air Density Theory the simple,


reduced air density effect did not explain observed
modifications of air insulation properties [9, 10].
Particle Initiated Flashover the probability of a
large number of particles forming a chain-like
structure, shorting out a significant part of the gap
between the conductor and the ground appears
remote [9]. A large number of particles may
contribute to the conductivity of the region above
the flame height (Figure 3) as discussed earlier.

Based on eye witness reports of very high flames and


physical evidence of elevated burn marks observed on
telephone poles and wooden 22kV structures in the
same area, it was concluded that the sparse vegetation,
between towers 664 and 666, was indeed responsible
for the fire induced flashover [7]. The second fault
was reported on the Alpha-Beta No 1 765kV at 12h29,
based on a flash mark found between towers 34 and 35
close to the town of Standerton (See Figure 5) [8]. The
area where the fault occurred was mainly grass covered
land. Weather conditions and FDI on the 29th of July

2.4

The Flame Conductivity Theory

The Flame conductivity theory is based on the fact that


the flame, high in ion and electron content (as a result

Pg. 3

Paper E-54

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

of the mentioned mechanisms involved: fuel oxidation


reaction and thermal ionisation), is conductive. When
the flame extends from the ground to the proximity of
the conductor bundle, at a point where the insulation in
the conductor-flame gap cannot be sustained, a
flashover results.

and pressure (STP) conditions is taken as 4,5 kV/cm


[9]. Due to a rise in temperature above the flame, this
value is assumed to be 2,7 kV/cm in accordance with
reasons provided in [9].

This theory does not take into account the fact that
floating particles or irregularities on the conductor may
increase the probability of a flashover.

The case of the CCF noted in 1.2 above [7, 8] was


considered for the model. The 765 kV line with 702 B
tower structure and 15,4 m phase spacing was
modelled. The conductor bundle consisted of 6 x Zebra
sub-conductors with 320 mm sub-conductor spacing.
Minimum conductor height above ground at mid-span
position was 15 m.

3.

For a flashover to occur between the conductor and the


flame, a two-factor requirement must be met:
i)

The conductor surface gradient must exceed the


corona inception gradient, Ec. In other words, the
conductor must be in corona.

The base of the flame was 10 m wide with the flame


top 1 m wide and set 1 m below the centre phase
(Figure 6).

ii) The electric field along the conductorflame gap,


must be greater than the minimum streamer
gradient, Es, for a streamer to be sustained through
the gap.

The conditions for flashover for the abovementioned


flame model was calculated and set for the 765 kV
single circuit line (702B tower structure and 15 m midspan clearance).

With the electric field, E, decreasing away from a


conductor, the value of E at the electron dense
boundary (Figure 3 called the flame tip, for the
purpose of this discussion) will determine whether
a streamer will exist to develop further and bridge
the gap. This is a crucial factor and requirement
for flashover after corona inception takes place [9].

The same flame model was then used to determine


whether both the requirements (conductor bundle in
corona and minimum gradient for streamer propagation
on the flame tip) were met for the 702B tower structure
with 20 m mid-span clearance.

0,308
Ec = 21.m. .1 +

r.

Any improvement in flashover behaviour for the 20 m


mid-span clearance, will be supportive of threattolerant behaviour and will be implemented in the
design of a new 765 kV double circuit structure [12].
The 20 m mid-span clearance was mainly dictated by
guidelines for electric field exposure, and not fireinduced flashovers necessarily.

4.

=
=

The corona onset or inception gradient, Ec in (kV/cm),


is given Peeks Law [11]:

where

surface roughness factor (typically


between 0,7 to 0,9 for a stranded
conductor).
radius of the conductor (cm)
relative air density

4.1

= p.

p
t

=
=

RESULTS
Flame Tip Electric Field

The flame model below the centre phase of the 765 kV


line with 702 B tower structure is indicated in Figure 6.

The relative air density, , is a function of the air


pressure and air temperature as noted in the following
equation:

where

NUMERICAL MODELLING

Figure 7 and 8 respectively indicate the electric field


and space potential profiles, vertically through the
flame, towards the 765 kV conductor bundle. The knee
points show respectively the electric field and space
potential at the flame tip.

293
273 + t

The properties of the material emulating the flame were


manipulated until the electric field gradient at the flame
tip was the required 2,7 kV/cm. The conductor gradient
was then obtained from the model.

the air density relative to a pressure


of 1,0 Bar and a temperature of
20oC.
the air pressure in Bar.
the air temperature on oC.

4.2

As expected, changes in temperature and pressure


brought about by the flame in the region above the
flame will lower the air density with a resulting and
lowered corona inception level. The minimum gradient
for streamer propagation under standard temperature

Variation in Bundle Electric Field Gradient

The corona inception gradient was assessed at different


ambient temperatures and air pressure for the 765 kV
(single circuit) line with 702 B tower type and with 6 x
Zebra conductor bundle (Figure 9) as well as the new

Pg. 4

Paper E-54

ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

By comparing Figure 9 with Figure 10, it is clear that


the 8 x Bersfort bundle presents a much larger margin,
in terms of maximum conductor gradient approaching
the corona inception gradient, compared to the 6 x
Zebra conductor bundle.
The above effectively means that the 6 x Zebra
conductor bundle will go into corona earlier than the 8
x Bersfort conductor bundle, considering the same
flame conditions below the conductors. (It should be
noted that the 8 x Bersfort bundle was selected based
on economic reasons and not reasons associated with
fire induced flashover, in particular [12]).

Figure 6: Flame model below the centre phase of the


765 kV line with 702 B tower.

Corona Inception Gradient (kV/cm)

25

20

15

10

0
-10.00

-5.00

0.00

5.00

10.00

15.00

20.00

25.00

30.00

35.00

40.00

Ambient Temperature (oC)


430 hPa

480 hPa

530 hPa

Max Cond Grad

Inception Grad

Design

Figure 9: Corona inception gradient at different ambient


temperatures and air pressure for the 765 kV (single
circuit) line with 702 B tower type.
765 kV DOUBLE CIRCUIT
VARIATION IN CONDUCTOR INCEPTION GRADIENT

Figure 7: Electric field profile (vertically) through the


flame up to the 765 kV conductor bundle (Knee point
shows electric field at flame tip).

Corona Inception Gradient (kV/cm)

25

20

15

10

0
-10.00

-5.00

0.00

5.00

10.00

15.00

20.00

25.00

30.00

35.00

40.00

Ambient Temperature (oC)


820 hPa

920 hPa

Max Cond Grad

Inception Grad

1020 hPa

Design

Figure 10: Corona inception gradient at different ambient


temperature and air pressure for the new 765 kV (double
circuit) with vertical, self support tower type [12].
4.3
Figure 8: Space potential profile (vertically) through the
flame up to the 765 kV conductor bundle (Knee point
shows space potential at flame tip).
765 kV (double circuit) with vertical, self support
tower type and 8 x Bersfort conductor bundle (Figure
10) [12].

Line Behaviour

Based on the numerical modelling discussed above, a


summary of required and actual conductor and flame
tip gradients, at the clearances discussed, are noted in
Table 2.
Table 2 shows that by increasing the conductor midspan clearance from 15 m to 20 m, under the same fire
conditions for a 702B tower structure, neither of the
two requirements for a fire-induced flashover will be
met. Thus, yielding threat-tolerant behaviour.

The corona inception gradient calculated and used in


the design for application altitude is indicated with the
circle on the graphs in Figures 9 and 10.

Pg. 5

Paper E-54

Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering


c 2009 SAIEE, Innes House, Johannesburg
Copyright

ISBN 978-0-620-44584-9

Table 2: Summary of required and actual conductor and


flame tip gradients at the clearances discussed.
Requirement
for Fire
Induced
Flashover
(Conductivity
Theory)

702B Tower
with 15 m
mid-span
clearance

Conductor
Gradient
17,7 (1)
192,9 (1)
(kV/cm)
(Inception)
Flame Tip
Gradient
2,7 (120oC)
2,7
(kV/cm)
[4,5 (STP)]
Both
flashover
YES
requirements
met ?
(1)
Not adjusted for increase in temperature.

The current weakness of the model is recognised.


Future work will focus on integrating the role of ash
particles and their contribution to fire-induced
flashovers to improve the flame model. This work will
also contribute to defining a reliability index for
overhead power lines, currently being investigated by
Trans-Africa Projects.

702B Tower
with 20 m
mid-span
clearance

ACKNOWLEDGMENT
13,7
Eskoms Sustainability and Innovation is acknowledged and thanked
for supporting and funding this work.
0,4
REFERENCES
[1]

G R Vajeth, D Muftic, L du Plessis, Waterberg Power Corridor


Optimisation,
Considerations
Towards
Reliable,
Environmentally Acceptable and Economic Bulk Power
Transfer, Eskom Transmission Report, Dec 2007.

[2]

H F Vosloo, The need for and contents of a Life Cycle


Management Plan for Eskom Transmission Line Servitudes,
Master of Science Dissertation in Geography, Rand Afrikaans
University, December 2004.

[3]

Personal correspondence with Mr Justin Miller, Director


Operations, The Nature Conservation Corporation, South
Africa, 24 Feb 2009.

[4]

J Gambiza, B M Campbell, S R Moe, P G H Frost, Fire


Behaviour in a Semi-Arid Baikiaea Plurijuga Savanna
Woodland on Kalahari Sands in Western Zimbabwe, Research
letters, South African Journal of Science, 101, May / Jun 2005.

[5]

K Mphale, M Heron, Wildfire Plume Electrical Conductivity,


Tellus, 59, 4, 766 772, 2007.

[6]

D Kennard, Estimating Flame Length from Fire Line Intensity,


http://www.forestency clopedia.net/p/p492, Last Accessed 30
Apr 2009.

[7]

H F Vosloo, Fire fault on the 765kV line in the Virginia area on


29 July 2002, Eskom Transmission, Report TT/08/02, 15 Aug
2002.

[8]

H F Vosloo, Fire fault on the 765kV line in the Standardton


area on 29 July 2002, Eskom Transmission, Report TT/07/02, 8
Aug 2002.

[9]

Sukhnandan A, Hoch D A, Fire Induced Flashover of


Transmission Lines: Theoretical Models, Proceedings of the
IEEE Africon Conference, George South Africa, 2002.

[10]

Lanoie, R, Mercure, H P, Influence of Forest Fires on Power


Line Insulation, 6th International Symposium on High Voltage
Engineering, New Orleans, LA, USA, 28 Aug to 1 Sep 1989.

[11]

Eskom, The Planning, Design and Construction of Overhead


Power Lines 132 kV and Above, Crown Publications, ISBN
9780620330428, Feb 2005.

The larger bundle and increase in mid-span clearance


thus
yield
a
Fire
Tolerant
Design
(a line with increased reliability), particularly in view
of CCF. The fact that this approach reduces probability
of a fire-induced flashover but does not guarantee
elimination of a fire-induced flashover, is realised.
These considerations were employed in the design of
Eskoms new 765 kV double circuit tower [12].

[12]

D Muftic, L Peter, P H Pretorius, A A Burger, F Mokhonoana,


R Singh, S Narain, L du Plessis, J Diez Serrano, V Naidoo, A
C Britten, Design Considerations Related to Eskoms New
765 kV Double Circuit Power Lines, CIGRE, 6th Southern
African Regional Conference and Colloquium, Somerset
West, 17 - 21 August 2009.

[13]

P Cowan, Natal Cane Fires Transmission Line Fault


Research, Eskom Engineering Investigations Division Report
TRR / E / P010, October 1989.

The paper also affirms the value and contribution of


software modelling as engineering tool and its
application in high voltage power line design.

[14]

K J Sadurski, J P Reynders, High Voltage AC Breakdown in


Presence of Fires, 6th International Symposium on High
Voltage Engineering, New Orleans, 28 Aug 1 Sep 1989.

NO

From Table 2, the conductor gradient appears to be


more sensitive to proximity of the flame compared to
the flame tip gradient. Considering the fact that the
corona on the conductor bundle effectively increases
the bundle radius, the bundle at 15 m clearance and in
corona may very well come in contact with the
flame. This aspect will be investigated further.
5.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The application of a software model (ELECTRO) to


explain the flame induced flashover experienced on an
existing 765 kV line in South Africa has been covered
in this paper. In addition, the same model and flame
conditions are employed in support of the expected
behaviour of a new 765 kV double circuit line,
presently being developed.
The model confirmed the expected increase in
reliability achieved by raising the minimum conductor
height above ground from 15 m to 20 m. By employing
a 20 m conductor to ground clearance at mid-span, in
the design of the new 765 kV double circuit tower,
better wild (veld) fire performance is expected
compared to the existing 765 kV structures with 15 m
conductor to ground clearance at mid-span.
With the larger (8 x Bersfort) bundle, the new double
circuit line is also expected to go into corona at a later
stage (under the fire conditions mentioned), compared
to the 6 x Zebra bundle.

Pg. 6

Paper E-54