By Logan Smith

MORGAN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — Firefighting efforts have ceased at the Pawnee Power Plant where a fire in a coal storage facility has forced the evacuation of all non-essential personnel and closed nearby roads.

The power plant, located two and a half miles southeast of Brush, has been taken offline and is no longer producing energy, Morgan County Sheriff Dave Martin confirmed Saturday morning.

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The sheriff said shut down procedures were initiated Friday as the fire flared up. The fire reportedly started July 14. It is inside a building that is separate from the main plant.

“The coal fire is contained to the live storage facility but is not controlled,” Martin stated in a press release. “Due to life safety factor, traditional fire suppression efforts by emergency personnel to extinguish this fire have been suspended. This fire has surpassed traditional suppression efforts but is being monitored both by Xcel Energy and our emergency partners.”

Xcel, the owner and operator of the power plant, said it did not anticipate any interruptions of electric service to its customers – none of whom are in the immediate area.

“The safety of our employees and people in the area is our top priority,” the company stated in a press release Friday. “We are taking steps to ensure everyone stays safe and we can get the plant back up and running as soon as possible.”

Morgan County Roads 24 and Q are closed near the plant. Air monitoring stations are also being set up in its vicinity.

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According to earlier information gathered by the Fort Morgan Times, the local fire department was notified of the fire five days after it started. A spokesman from that fire department said on Tuesday that a conveyor belt designed to move coal out of the facility had broken down and vacuum trucks were hauling the coal outside instead.

Xcel Energy reiterated Saturday that there is no immediate risk to the general public.

The local fire and police agencies have been joined by the Northeast Colorado Health Department and the Colorado Department of Public Safety in regards to the emergency.

The Pawnee plant began operations as a coal-fired generating facility in 1981. Xcel announced earlier this year its plan to convert the Pawnee plant to natural gas power by 2028 in an effort to reach an 85 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from its power generation.


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Logan Smith