COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado Springs Utilities says it doesn't know when the Martin Drake Power Plant might start producing electricity again after it was badly damaged by fire.
The fire started at 9:40 a.m. Monday (5/5/14) at the plant located in the 700 block of Conejos Street.
There were 62 employees inside the plant when the fire started. Everyone escaped. Two people suffered minor injuries.
The cause and origin of the fire has not yet been determined.
22,000 customers lost power at the height of the fire. Service has since been restored.
A voluntary evacuation order went out for anyone within a three block radius of the plant because of the possibility of dangerous chemicals being released into the air.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department says that the chemicals that created concern included hydrogen and coal dust. Chief Chris Riley says the chemicals are no longer posing a danger, and all of the evacuation orders have been lifted.
Numerous streets were closed in the area Monday. All of the closed roads have since reopened.
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UTILITY BILL IMPACTS UNCERTAIN
The Colorado Springs Fire Department says the damage to the plant is significant and that it's going to be quite some time before normal operations resume.
The fire department says the structural integrity of the facility has been compromised.
The fire was still smoldering inside the plant Monday evening and Colorado Springs Utilities says it hasn't had a chance to get inside and assess the extent of the damage yet.
With the Drake power plant offline, Colorado Springs Utilities is relying on its other power plants -- Front Range, Ray Nixon and Birdsall -- to supply the city's electricity needs.
Colorado Springs Utilities says it can also buy additional electricity on the open market when needed.
The utility says that it will be expensive if it is forced to buy power on the open market long-term, but that it's too soon to say whether that will happen.
A spokesperson says it's too soon to know whether the fire will result in higher utility bills for Colorado Springs Utilities customers.
This fire comes at a time when the future of the Martin Drake Power Plant was already a topic of debate.
Some in the business community have argued that the plant is an eyesore and should be torn down.
A 2013 study on the issue found that keeping the plant open would be the most cost effective solution, but that closing it might be the best option from an environmental and social perspective.
City council is expected to make a decision on the future of the plant this year. The soonest it could have closed prior to the fire was 2019.
The Martin Drake Power Plant has been in operation for more than 80 years. The three units that were in operation when the fire started were built in 1962, 1968 and 1974.
Colorado Springs Utilities says the 2014 fire was the facility's first major incident.