Outage cuts power for 5,700 customers

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— Skiers and snowboarders had a little extra time to talk on the lifts Monday.

About 5,700 Yampa Valley Electric Association customers, including Steamboat Ski Area and Yampa Valley Medical Center, lost power for about 10 minutes after an equipment failure just before noon at the Mount Werner substation.

"We had a little excitement," said Jim Chappell, YVEA spokesman. "The failure caused quite a ball of fire."

No workers were injured by the brief burst of flame that occurred as a result of the 11:49 a.m. equipment failure. Chappell said power was restored to customers by 11:59 a.m.

Most customers between Central Park Plaza and Rabbit Ears Pass lost power for the 10-minute period, including several hotels and condominiums. The traffic light at U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road also was briefly without power, as were parts of the county along Routt County Road 131 toward Oak Creek.

Chappell said those areas represent about 20 percent of Yampa Valley Electric's 25,000 estimated total customer base.

The Mount Werner substation is just behind the fire station on Pine Grove Road, allowing firefighters to respond quickly to an incident announced on police scanners as "blue flames at the power station."

Firefighter Jeanne Power said the cause of the outage might have been an electric current that "arced," or jumped, from one transformer to another, possibly using snow as a conductor.

Chappell said an arc occurs whenever electricity travels from its normal environment to the ground. He compared the occurrence to a welder touching concentrated flame to a piece of metal.

"But this is substantially more powerful," he said.

At the hospital, public relations coordinator Mindy Fon--taine said generators kicked in promptly.

"(The outage) didn't really affect us at all," she said.

A Steamboat Ski Area spokeswoman said the incident was over almost before it began.

"Our crews responded immediately," spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said. "We switched to our backup power (generators), but by the time we got that up and ready, the power was back on. By our estimate, the longest time a lift was down was about 15 minutes."

YVEA serves most of Routt and Moffat counties along with small portions of Wyoming to the north and Eagle County to the south.

Chappell said the association periodically scans its equipment with an infrared camera to test for hot spots.

"We go to quite a bit of length to minimize our equipment failures, but in this case, we happened to have one," he said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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