UPDATE – Five RPI Coating workers die in 324-MW Cabin Creek fire

A chemical fire during a penstock recoating job killed five employees of a California contractor Oct. 2 at Public Service Co. of Colorado’s 324-MW Cabin Creek pumped-storage project near Georgetown.

PSC’s parent utility, Xcel Energy, said nine employees of an outside contractor identified as RPI Coating of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., were inside the penstock, 1,500 to 2,000 feet below ground, when the fire broke out about 2 p.m. Four of the nine were positioned below the fire location and were able to escape. The remaining five were trapped in the penstock above the blaze. (HNN 10/3/07)

Names of the workers were not immediately available. A spokesman also had no information on the extent of fire damage to the penstock.

RPI Coating began work on the 4,150-foot-long penstock Sept. 4, recoating a 1,560-foot-long section inside the penstock to lessen, if not eliminate, corrosion.

The plant was shut down for routine maintenance, with the coating job originally to have been completed Nov. 16. However, because Cabin Creek is a summer peaking plant, it normally would not be returned to full operation until spring 2008, Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorization will be required for any future work and before the project can resume operations.

�The company will be required to submit an incident report and the commission will take further action based on the detailed facts,� FERC spokeswoman Mary O’Driscoll said. �Our authorization will be required before any work or project operations may resume.�

PSC President Tim Taylor expressed sympathy to the families, friends, and co-workers of those who died. He said the company would work closely with authorities to investigate what happened.

Firefighters from the Clear Creek County Fire Authority eventually extinguished the blaze, Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said. The Henderson Mine Rescue Unit, West Metro Fire, and Arvada Haz-Mat Crew assisted in the firefight and rescue.

Xcel said the trapped workers initially communicated with plant operators by radio. Xcel said, about 40 minutes after the fire started, fresh air was piped to the workers and oxygen bottles were lowered to them. However, it was reported the men were dead when the Henderson Mine Rescue Unit reached them about 8 p.m.

It was reported two of the four surviving workers were treated for chemical inhalation. One was airlifted to a hospital, authorities said.

The plant was licensed by FERC (No. 2351) in 1964 and commissioned in April 1967 on South Clear Creek and Cabin Creek near Georgetown. It has two 162-MW pump-generating units and upper and lower reservoirs located in Clear Creek County in the Rocky Mountains.

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