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Colorado Springs Utilities makes contingency plans after Drake fire

May 6, 2014 Updated: May 7, 2014 at 7:29 am
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Dark smoke issues from the Martin Drake Power Plant while a fire burns on the property Monday morning. Photo by Mark Reis

The Martin Drake Power Plant fire caused significant damage and officials on Tuesday said they don't know what repairs would be necessary and couldn't estimate how long the facility would be shut down.

Firefighters were still putting out spots of smoldering insulation inside the plant Tuesday morning, Fire Chief Chris Riley said

"There is no conclusive cause determined for the fire or where it started," Riley said during a news conference Tuesday morning "For now we know that a turbine and the control deck were severely damaged and there is considerable structural damage."

Riley said non-emergency personnel would likely would not be allowed into the facility until Wednesday.

Officials will give more updates at a 9 a.m. Wednesday press conference. The Gazette will have a reporter at the press conference. You can get updates by following @csgazette on Twitter and using the hashtag #DrakeFire.

"I wouldn't call the conditions inside the plant perilous, but there are definitely safety concerns and we can't let anyone in until all the flares are extinguished," Riley, the fire chief said on Tuesday.

The fire erupted about 9:40 a.m. Monday and sent a huge plume of black smoke over downtown Colorado Springs, prompting the evacuation of 62 employees and voluntary evacuation notices for people in a three-block area of the plant.

With the exception of one contract employee who was treated for minor injuries and released, everyone in the plant got out unharmed.

Drake, a 254-megawatt coal-fired plant, provides about a third of the community's power, which the Ray Nixon, Birdsall and Front Range plants are now tasked with providing.

The next step, according to Utilities energy services general manager John Romero, will be to put together short and long-term purchase plans to meet energy demands, especially as the summer approaches. Depending on how long Drake is out of commission, Utilities might have to purchase energy at market prices from other suppliers, which is more expensive.

"We don't know how that will affect our customers' rates yet, because we don't have enough information to make any projections or estimates," Romero said.

Utilities also must begin the process of filing what will likely be a lengthy and complicated claim with its key utility insurance company, AIG. Utilities has a policy that covers up to $500 million per incident with a $1 million deductible, which chief financial officer Bill Cherrier said will cover any repairs at Drake.

"The funds for the deductible are readily available and we expect the process with our adjuster to begin as soon as we can get inside the plant," Cherrier said. "You could rebuild the vast majority of the plant with that amount of money, so I'm confident that will cover the damage without any problems."

Romero said plant employees will get paid for missed work hours and preparations are underway to transfer the workers to other facilities temporarily.

Monday's fire was the second at Drake since 2002, when a break on a large fan failed and started a blaze that shut the plant down for several weeks.

Tom Mull, safety engineering supervisor with Utilities, attributed the successful evacuation of Drake workers to consistent safety drills and exercises with the fire department.

"There's lots of training and we're constantly working with high-angle rescue, heavy rescue units and hazmat teams to prepare for any incident," Mull said. "Clearly, it paid off because everyone made it out quickly and safely."

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