5 workers dead after Colorado plant fire - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

5 workers dead after Colorado plant fire

Officer Nick W. Borys of the Georgetown, Colo., Police Department stops a motorist headed up Guanella Pass where five maintenance workers were trapped. Officer Nick W. Borys of the Georgetown, Colo., Police Department stops a motorist headed up Guanella Pass where five maintenance workers were trapped.

GEORGETOWN, COLO. (CBS/AP) -- A chemical fire at a hydroelectric plant outside this mountain town killed five workers who were trapped about 1,000 feet below ground inside an empty water tunnel on Tuesday, authorities said.

A rescue crew went in from the bottom of the tunnel to put out the fire and found the worker's bodies, said Clear Creek County undersheriff Stu Nay said.

"We have found the parties. We have five fatalities," Nay said.

Xcel Energy spokeswoman Ethnie Groves previously said that workers had initially communicated that they weren't injured but it wasn't clear how many times they had communicated with authorities after that.

Crews had sent breathing masks and pumped air to the trapped workers about 45 minutes after the fire started, said sheriff's Maj. Rick Albers.

Nine workers were in the tunnel when the fire broke out at 2 p.m. on a machine being used to coat the inside of the 48-inch pipe with epoxy, said Xcel spokeswoman Ethnie Groves.

CBS News reporter Gwen Belton said Xcel's president has pledged to keep all lines of communication open with the agencies investigating the incident. Crews worked through the night to recover the bodies of the victims, Belton reported.

The water tunnel had been shut down for routine maintenance when the fire broke out.

The five trapped workers rushed uphill to a section of the pipe that had been blocked off to prevent ground water from seeping into it.

Four workers below the fire were able to scramble out of the bottom of the tunnel, which goes through a mountain to a small reservoir. Two of the four workers who scrambled out from the pipe were treated for chemical inhalation. One was airlifted to a hospital, Groves said.

The underground channel is called a penstock, which delivers water from a reservoir to turbines that generate electricity. The maintenance was being done by a contractor, but Xcel did not release the contractor's name.

The hydroelectric plant generates electricity during peak times of demand by releasing water from one reservoir into a lower reservoir, then pumping the water back to the upper reservoir.

It was built from 1964 to 1967 and is located about 2 miles southwest of Georgetown at 10,018 feet above sea level.

Posted by KO

The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.

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