Drake fire causes 'major damage' 

A four-alarm fire Monday at the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant has indefinitely shut down the plant that supplies much of the city's power.

As of the Indy's Tuesday morning deadline, officials still did not know the extent of the damage, or when the 254-megawatt coal-fired plant could operate again. In fact, Utilities officials had not been allowed into the plant because fires were still smoldering in its insulation, and firefighters were uncertain what dangers structural damage could pose. It was thought that it would be at least 24 hours before non-fire personnel would be given access.

"There's been major damage," Fire Chief Chris Riley said.

The fire mostly affected the smallest of Drake's three turbines and the control deck.

With Drake down, Utilities has been relying on its Ray Nixon Power Plant, with a 208-megawatt, coal-generated capacity, and another 35 megawatts of hydroelectric power. The two sources are preferred because they are low-cost. But Utilities is also falling back on natural gas power. And in the hours after the fire, it purchased "spot power" off the grid.

Utilities spokesperson Dave Grossman said it may be necessary to purchase more long-term power off the grid if Drake remains down, which could impact ratepayers' bills.

Riley and other officials emphasized that the quick response to the fire saved lives and property. At one point, two-thirds of the city's fire units were dispatched to Drake. Firefighters faced the possibility of a massive explosion when entering the plant at 9:40 a.m. Monday. Because of the danger from hazardous materials, Utilities quickly evacuated 62 workers, and police evacuated a three-block area around the plant.

Despite the dangers, the main fire was extinguished within an hour. Only one contract worker suffered injuries, and has since been released from a local hospital, Utilities officials said. About 22,000 Utilities customers were cut off from power during the fire for 30 minutes.

The fire comes as the Utilities board considers whether to close Drake in the coming years. Board Chair Merv Bennett said it was too early to say whether the fire would play into the board's decision, which is expected in late summer.

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