Solar panels catch on fire at dentist office in Latham

Amy Cutler - LATHAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) - Fire officials said solar panels on a building may be the cause of a fire Friday morning.

The fire happened just before 10 a.m. on Route 9 just north of the circle. A dental office and a chiropractor's office are both located in that building and had to be evacuated. Route 9 was closed in both directions.

Authorities said the fire started on the roof, and it was likely caused by a solar panel malfunctioning.

"I heard the boom," Dr. Jocelyn Tameta said. "So I looked out the window and there's smoke coming out, and next thing you know, everybody is saying, 'Get out of the building. The roof is on fire.'"

Tameta's dental practice is on the second floor of the building. The building owner said the solar panels were installed about five years ago, and they have not had any problems.

"It's not common," Steven Kasselman of Kasselman Solar said. "It's actually very rare."

Kasselman is the president and CEO of Kasselman Solar. His company didn't install the panels on the Route 9 building, but he explained that the system in place is older and uses DC electricity, which he said is more dangerous than AC electricity.

"We install what's called micro inverters, which isolate the DC string to each individual solar panel," he said. "So essentially, all of our systems only have AC electricity on the roof."

Latham Fire Chief Thomas Bergin said it was a challenging blaze, and the flames spread into the attic, which meant their plan of attack had to be different.

"There's a lot of energy in those panels, and of course, they're on the roof where we need to ventilate," he said.

Officials said no one was injured, but there was substantial damage to the dental office.

The tenants did have fire insurance, but it's unclear how long it will take to repair the damage.

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