Data Center Fire: Google Suffers 'Electrical Incident,' 3 Injured

News of yet another data center fire in just two years: OVH in 2021 and now Google. Here’s how to make sure you’re not next.

Data Center Knowledge

August 9, 2022

4 Min Read
data center fire outage
Geoffrey Robinson / Alamy Stock Photo

Updated as of 08-12-2022 1:51 p.m. EST

A spokesperson from Google said the outage at its Council Bluffs, Iowa, data center was unrelated to the recent Google Search and Maps outage that slowed or shut down those services on Monday, August 8. The cause of the outage "was the result of an internal error," according to Google's spokesperson. Google is currently not sharing details of the size of the outage. However, Google Search and Maps downtime was widely reported on the same day Google experienced an electrical incident (what many would call a data center fire, data center electrical explosion, and/or an arc flare) at one of its Council Bluffs data center buildings.


Updated as of 08-11-2022 5:00 p.m. EST 

After widespread reports of an arc flash fire at one of Google’s largest data centers, the firm issued a statement to clarify the incident.  

“We are aware of an electrical incident that took place at Google’s data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, injuring three people onsite who are being treated and in stable condition. The health and safety of all workers is our absolute top priority, and we are working closely with partners and local authorities to thoroughly investigate the situation and provide assistance as needed,” Devon Smiley, Google spokesperson. 

Related:OVH Founder: Data Center Fire Incident Shows All Backup Should Be Free


Published Tuesday, August 9, 2022 - 5:57 p.m. EST

Google just reportedly suffered an outage due to a fire at one of the company’s key data centers. The fire is now contained, but Google’s core offering, Search, has yet to recover. Indexing, search results, and sponsor-supported content all remain sluggish and inaccurate as of this publishing. 

The cause of the fire: An electrical explosion (specifically an arc flash) occurred as electricians worked on a substation near the data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to the San Francisco Gate’s website. All three workers were injured and are in critical condition. 

What This Means for Your Data Center 

Whether you manage on-prem or leverage colocations, a data center fire remains a likely risk to the continuity of your digital infrastructure.  

We asked experts what can be done to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of a data center fire. 

Data center fires aren’t common. The Uptime Institute has 14 reported fires among its membership in the last six years. With 8,000 data centers worldwide, one might be tempted to dismiss data center fires as a distant threat.  Nothing could be further from the truth according to a senior analyst familiar with Google’s data infrastructure. 

“This is a wake-up moment for a lot of people who manage data centers,” the source said. “Whether you're a tier 2, 3, or 4 data center you have to ask yourself, ‘How ready am I to mitigate the fire risk that could take out an entire facility?’” 

A high-level approach to addressing data center fire mitigation includes: 

Reviewing and updating existing fire suppression and mitigation plans 

Updating disaster recovery strategies to harden physical site security against fire damage 

Asking tough questions of facilities managers and operations managers around data center fire safety 

A more granular view, provided by Jensen Hughes’ Paul Amico, encourages the development of a thorough fire risk assessment (FRA) that spots the portion of your digital infrastructure that contributes to the biggest business risk. These include key ignition sources and the most important areas to protect in the data center. Amico provides a solid calculation structure here

A Brief History of Data Center Fires 

When considering fire-related data center incidents, the March 2021 OVH data center fire often comes to mind. A lack of fire extinguishers and electrical cutoff systems allowed a fire to spread across OVH’s SBG2 facility, destroying it completely and damaging the facility’s three other buildings. The company’s founder pledged to build a lab for data center fire research and vows to share the findings with the industry. 

Data center expert Stacy Black recounted her experience with data center fires and how her firm addressed the aftermath. At AFCOM’s 2022 Data Center World conference, Black laid out a nine-point plan for optimal data center fire prevention: 

  1. Solid documentation 

  2. Label all equipment properly 

  3. Right-size talent: The right people in the right place at the right time to protect your data center 

  4. Annual fire safety inspections 

  5. Documented technical hardware refresh cycle 

  6. Written procedures, especially fire suppression 

  7. Coordinated facility maintenance 

  8. Risk management and planning 

  9. Strong IT leadership 

Black stated during her session that it’s important to remember money isn’t the only obstacle to protecting data centers from fires. In reference to strong IT leadership, she mentioned organizational leadership must own their narrative around fire suppression.  



Google, Data Center Locations 

Uptime Institute, Global Data Center Survey 2021 

Cloudscene, Data Center Markets 

United States International Trade Commission, “Data Centers Around the World: A Quick Look” 

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