COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- A blaze at an aging coal-fired power plant in Colorado Springs on Monday challenged firefighters, shut down the facility and forced the city's utilities department to turn to a backup plant to restore power to thousands of customers.
One contractor was hospitalized and more than 22,000 people lost electricity for about 30 minutes during the fire at the Martin Drake Power Plant, Colorado Springs Utilities officials said. They said 62 employees working at the site on Monday were uninjured.
Police and firefighters had evacuated homes and businesses within three blocks of the plant during the fire. Fire Chief Chris Riley said at a news conference that the blaze was under control but still smoldering at 4:30 p.m., some seven hours after the emergency call went out.
"It's probably going to take us some time to completely extinguish," he said.
At one point, Riley said, 23 units — two-thirds of the city's firefighting fleet — were working to stop the fire. Scores of firefighters contended with an evacuation, a large blaze, difficult access and the presence of hazardous materials that included coal dust and hydrogen, Riley said.
Firefighters proceeded cautiously for fear of explosions, but none occurred, Riley said, and by afternoon the hazardous materials were no longer considered a risk.
Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the blaze and the extent of damage. Colorado Springs Utilities said it was unclear when the plant would again generate power, but the company expected to be able to meet customer demand using other plants and would buy power from elsewhere if necessary.
This is the second fire at Drake in 12 years. In 2002, a breaker on a large fan failed, sparking a blaze that shut down half of the plant for several weeks, forcing the utility to buy power from other sources, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported Monday (http://tinyurl.com/n9m46ke ).
The latest fire comes just 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 continues to be the cheapest, most reliable source of power for ratepayers.