Fire at Minuteman Site

A fire broke out in an area of a Minuteman IIII ICBM launch facility May 23 at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., causing about $1 million in damage, Air Force Space Command said last week. But the flames did not enter the launch tube or reach the missile, and at no time was there the risk of an unauthorized release of nuclear material, a command spokeswoman told the Daily Report. That said, this incident was not publicly disclosed until the release of the accident investigation board findings on Oct. 30. The fire occurred just two weeks before the Air Force’s previous leadership was fired over shortcomings in nuclear stewardship after two highly publicized missteps. AFSPC said in its release on the missile fire that accident investigators found that a buildup of flammable hydrogen gas caused by a malfunctioning battery charger resulted in the fire in the unmanned facility, which is designated LF Alpha 06. The hydrogen buildup was caused by an electrical capacitor overcharging the facility’s backup batteries, which are there to power the silo in case the primary power system goes down, which did happen on May 23, AFSPC spokeswoman Maj. Laurie Arellano told the Daily Report Oct. 30. She said a spark then ignited the hydrogen, which, in turn, caused foam in a nearby shotgun case to catch fire. This then caused shotgun shells in the case to explode. Arellano said the fire, which likely lasted an hour or two at the most, eventually extinguished itself from lack of oxygen. Air Force overseers of the facility did not realize that there had been a fire until May 28 when they were looking into a wiring problem, she said. (For more, read part one of the AIB report and the Colorado Springs Gazette report.)