COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - At one point during the fire at the Martin Drake Power Plant last Monday, Chief Chris Riley said two-thirds of the city's firefighting units were on scene battling the blaze. Dark smoke and flames were shooting out of the roof. Fortunately, it looked worse outside than what happened inside.
"While the damage is significant, it's confined to a very small area of the overall plant," said Daniel Higgins, the interim GM of Power Supply for Colorado Springs Utilities. "It's not that bad."
Unit 5, the smallest power generator at the plant suffered the most significant damage.
For the first time cameras were able to capture firsthand what the flames left behind as CSU led a media tour through a small portion of the plant.
The tour included the office from where the plant manager first saw the flames from his office window.
"The plant manager described looking out this window and seeing nothing but the wall of orange flame," Higgins said.
Investigators believe leaking lubricating oil onto hot steam pipes sparked the flash fire.
Amazingly, the few inches of firewall and fire resistant windows were enough to keep the flames at bay, and minus some smoke damage, the plant manager's office exactly like he left it over a week ago. Utility officials credit the quick evacuation of 62 employees inside at the time as a major reason.
"Instead of firefighters looking for people that were unaccounted for they were able to focus on getting the fire extinguished," Higgins said.
Just across the hall from the office is the control room, completely undamaged from flames that feet away were burning up to an estimated 2-thousand degrees. But along a wall where staff would be monitoring the plant's output 24-hours a day, the megawatt gauges reads "zero."
Utility officials are hesitant to offer a timeline to get the plant back up and running, but the hope is to at least get two of the power generators running by the end of the summer.
"We'll focus on getting units 7 & 6 back in business first. Right now we're doing those conditions assessments but it's important that we get back to making electricity as soon as possible," Higgins said.
Miles and miles of melted instrumentation and control cables will have to be replaced. But before any major work can begin, a fire damage cleanup contractor has been hired.
CSU says half of the employees who typically work at Drake are now reporting for duty at the plant.