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Firefighters contain blaze at Colorado power plant; contractor hospitalized

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A fire at an aging coal-fired power plant in Colorado Springs on Monday shut down the facility and forced the city's utilities department to turn to a backup plant to restore power to thousands of customers.

One contractor was hospitalized and more than 22,000 people temporarily lost electricity during the fire at the Martin Drake Power Plant, Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier said.

Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the blaze.

Lehermeier said 62 employees who were evacuated have been accounted for. Police and firefighters evacuated homes and businesses within three blocks of the plant during the fire.

This is the second fire at Drake in 12 years. In 2002, a breaker on a large fan failed, sparking a blaze that shut down half of the plant for several weeks, forcing the utility to buy power from other sources, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported Monday (http://tinyurl.com/n9m46ke ).

The latest fire comes just as the Colorado Springs City Council, which acts as the utilities department's board of directors, considers whether to keep Drake in operation or scrap it in favour of cleaner, more efficient power sources, such as natural gas. Colorado Springs Utilities has framed the decision in terms of cost, saying Drake continues to be the cheapest, most reliable source of power for rate payers.

Dave Green, who has worked as an electrician at the plant for eight years, said he learned of the fire when he heard people yelling, "Get out!"

"The evacuation sirens started going off, and everybody made sure all their partners were together," he said.

The power supply was rerouted through the Ray Nixon Plant in Fountain, Lehermeier said.

"We were able to restore power to almost everyone within 30 minutes and there is no strain on the power supply right now," she said.

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Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com

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