COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Investigators have traced a fire that shut down a major power plant to an oil leak, the Colorado Springs fire chief said Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference near the plant, where he said insulation was still smoldering two days after the fire, chief Chris Riley said the lubricating oil came into contact with a super-heated steam line, sparking a flash fire. The oil kept flowing, feeding a fire that destroyed a turbine before firefighters could bring it under control.
Riley said the cause of the leak remains unclear. The investigation continues.
"It's taken us 48 hours to determine this much information. It will take us a lot longer to get more specific," Riley said.
One contractor was briefly hospitalized and more than 22,000 people lost electricity for about 30 minutes as a result of Monday's fire at the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant, which is nearly 90 years old. Colorado Springs Utilities officials say 62 employees working at the site Monday were uninjured. No firefighters were hurt.
Drake had supplied about a third of Colorado Springs's power needs. Since the fire, the utility has been relying on other plants and making some spot purchases of power from elsewhere. Jerry Forte, chief executive officer of Colorado Springs Utilities, told reporters on Wednesday that they would work to restore Drake as quickly as possible. Forte said Drake had an exemplary maintenance and reliability record.
It was the second fire at Drake in 12 years. In 2002, a breaker on a large fan failed, sparking a blaze that shut down half the plant for several weeks, forcing the utility to buy power from other sources, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported Monday.
The latest fire comes as the Colorado Springs City Council, which acts as the utility's board of directors, considers whether to keep Drake in operation or scrap it in favor of cleaner, more efficient power sources, such as natural gas. Colorado Springs Utilities has framed the decision in terms of cost, saying Drake has been a cheap, reliable source of power for ratepayers.