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Dan Higgins, Interim Manager of the Colorado Springs Utility Energy Supply Dept., shines a flashlight on the oil pressure and sensing equipment located beneath Unit #5 while leading the most recent media tour of the Martin Drake Power Plant on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The small fire that broke out Aug. 20 at Martin Drake Power Plant was an accident caused by turbine lube oil being ignited by hot pipes, the Colorado Springs Fire Department said Wednesday.

When firefighters arrived, the coal-fired downtown power plant had brown smoke billowing from the top of Turbine 7, a Fire Department news release read.

The fire, ruled accidental, was the result of excess turbine lube oil coming into contact with extremely hot pipes and other metal surfaces. The pressurized steam within the pipes reaches temperatures up to 1,000 degrees, while the oil’s combustion point is 478 degrees, according to the release.

Second fire in five years at Martin Drake power plant could push up shutdown date, City Council president says

Before attacking the flames, Colorado Springs Utilities informed firefighters that cooling the turbine down too quickly would damage it, the release read. Firefighters used dry chemical extinguishers at the bottom of the turbine where flames were visible to avoid damaging it.

Once the body of the fire was knocked down, firefighters used a dry foam product to cool the rest of the turbine, the release said.

None of the workers or firefighters were injured but about 20 to 40 employees were working nearby when it broke out, said Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin the night of the fire. About 60 firefighters responded and extinguished it within minutes.

Turbine 7 was back online as of Wednesday, Benyamin said.

“The units are decades old ...” he said. “Our crews do a great job of inspection, detection and upgrades to the system. We’re going to have to increase some of those cycles.”

While a deteriorated gasket isn’t uncommon at a power plant, the CEO said the leak could have caused hundreds of millions in damage to the turbine had firefighters or ceiling sprinklers dowsed the machinery with water.

“It (would be) hard to quantify (the damage,)” he said. “But we have rehearsed these situations and we have rehearsed our response level.”

Multimedia Journalist

Liz is a multimedia journalist with a specific interest in space exploration and environment. She watches way too much Star Trek and is working toward her rescue scuba divers certification. Liz joined the Gazette staff in 2019.

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