The Fort Morgan Times
Local agencies turn over fire fight
Sheriff: Xcel Energy, contractors to handle coal fire response now
Local emergency responders have stepped back from efforts to bring a raging fire in the coal storage facility at the Pawnee Station near Brush under control.
The Morgan County
Sheriff’s Office said Sunday in its morning update that “all operations to this coal fire emergency have been turned over to Xcel Energy, Savage Industries and their contracted Emergency Response Team.” Savage Industries is the contractor that deals with electrical equipment and controls for the coal handling operations at the Xcel Energy power plant.
The announcement followed an evacuation of most of the plant’s employees on Friday as the fire, which reportedly started July 14, intensified, despite ongoing efforts by the Brush Volunteer Fire Department and other agencies to suppress the blaze.
The power plant was shut down Friday due to the fire, Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo confirmed. In an emailed statement, Aguayo said the plant would remain out of service pending further assessment, but that the shutdown should not result in any disruption of electrical service.
BVFD Assistant Chief Ray Uhrick told The Fort Morgan Times last week that they had been notified of the fire on July 19. According to Uhrick, there were 23,000 tons of coal in the storage facility, and the conveyor belt needed to move the coal outside the building was inoperable and awaiting a part for repair. Vacuum trucks had been deployed to try to move the coal.
On Saturday, the MCSO’s morning update said the fire, which is contained within the storage facility, “has surpassed traditional suppression efforts,” and those efforts were being suspended
“due to life safety factor.”
“The coal fire is contained to the live storage facility but is not controlled,” the MCSO update reads.
The update also stated that air monitoring stations had been requested and would be set up in Brush and Fort Morgan.
In Sunday’s update, the MCSO noted that they, along with Brush fire
crews, would continue to be available to respond to the power plant if asked. The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control was standing down assisting agencies but also will be available.
Road closures related to the fire on Morgan County Road 24 and MCR Q have been lifted, the MCSO stated.
“Xcel Energy reiterates that they feel there is no immediate risk to the general public,” the update reads.
The sheriff’s office said it did not plan to release any further updates on the fire; any future released would come from Xcel Energy.
According to a document on the Colorado Legislature’s website, the Pawnee Station is a “coal-fired, steam-electric generation station” that began commercial operation in 1981. In 1994, a baghouse that vacuums particulate emissions from the flue gas was installed, and new controls to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide were installed in 2014.
Xcel Energy in March announced plans to convert the power plant from coal to natural gas fuel by 2028 as part of its Clean Energy Plan to retire all coal use in Colorado by 2040.