PSC's parent utility, Xcel Energy, said nine employees of an outside contractor 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. None of the workers was identified immediately.
�We want to express our deepest sympathies to the families, friends, and co-workers of those who died,� PSC President Tim Taylor said. �Certainly, we'll be working closely with the authorities to investigate what happened.�
The workers were applying an epoxy erosion protection coating to the penstock interior as preventive maintenance. The plant was shut down for routine maintenance at the time, the company said.
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 pumped-storage plant was licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (No. 2351) in 1964 and was 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.