A fire broke out at a Google-backed Californian solar panel power plant after misaligned mirrors caused concentrated sunrays to beam in the wrong direction and burn through electrical cables.

The Ivanpah concentrated solar power plant (CSP) contains more than 300,000 mirrors (known as heliostats) that reflect and focus direct sunlight at water boilers on top of 459ft towers, which when heated up turn water to steam to power energy-producing generators.

However, poorly aimed heliostats resulted in one of the plant's three towers being set ablaze on the morning of 19 May, melting cooling and water pipes and causing the power station to be running at only a third of its operating capacity following the maintenance of another tower.

A tweet from the San Bernardino County Fire Department showed the extent of the damage, clearly showing the metal piping left with gaping holes.

The fire was put out by staff before emergency crews arrived at the smouldering scene but they still had to climb 300ft in order to check and inspect everything was safe at the $2.2bn (£1.5m) facility. Authorities told the Associated Press they do not know when the tower is expected to be back to full working order.

This is not the first instance of controversy at the under-fire solar plant after it was discovered the concentrated solar rays were killing birds, burning them to death as they flew past the high-intensity beams of light. The Ivanpah plant, which is designed to produce 448,000MWh – enough renewable energy for 140,000 Californian homes, – is facing an uncertain future after failing to meet the electricity targets or being able to run cost-effectively since it opened in 2014.