Power plant fire causes blackouts in St. Louis

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Power plant fire causes blackouts in St. Louis In downtown St. Louis, Missouri a fire caused several electrical explosions at the Ameren U E plant, Thursday August 11, 2000 Web posted at: 4:24 a.m. EDT (0824 GMT)

VENICE, Illinois (CNN) -- A fire at a power station on Thursday night knocked out electricity to several sections of downtown St. Louis, snarling traffic and closing at least one bridge on the Mississippi River.

The fire at the Ameren U E plant and substation began at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. EDT) when an oil leak on the plant floor somehow burst into flames, said Ameren spokesman Tim Fox. All 24 employees got out of the building safely, he said.

The fire caused several electrical explosions and firefighters had difficulty reaching the source of the flames because of the electricity involved. Fox said fire crews planned to let the fire die down before trying to get in close.

The incident cut off power to about 8,000 customers in Venice and downtown St. Louis, which is just across the river.

A spokesman for the St. Louis police said his station house was running on an emergency generator. He said several miles of the city were "pitch black," with no streetlights and no traffic lights.

Nearly 8,000 customers in Venice and downtown St. Louis are without electrical power Spokeswomen for St. Louis University Hospital and St. Mary's Health Center said their facilities were not affected by the outages.

Fox said it was impossible to tell when the fire at the 429-megawatt plant would be extinguished or when the power outages would be repaired.

He said the plant is mostly used as a "peaking plant," for periods of high demand, but the problem there shut down three substations in the city of St. Louis.

Ameren U E was formed in 1998 with the merger of Union Electric and Illinois Public Service.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 11, 2000


Electricity is back, but power plant remains down By beth gansmann and jaime ingle Most of the power is back on, but it will be awhile before AmerenUE's Venice Plant again is generating electricity after an explosion and fire Thursday night.

``The investigation could take days or weeks. It's too early to tell when or if we'll rebuild,'' said Tim Fox, a spokesman for AmerenUE.

Power was restored by 10:50 p.m. Thursday to residents in southwestern Madison County, including Madison, Venice and portions of Granite City, Fox said. The plant exploded and burned starting about 6 p.m. Thursday.

Of AmerenUE's 8,000 customers who lost power after the fire, Fox said 700 customers in downtown St. Louis still were without power Friday afternoon. Illinois Power restored power to 3,000 customers Thursday night, said spokesman Shirley Swarthout.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, but Fox said an oil line in the No. 1 turbine unit ruptured. He did not disclose how the oil was ignited.

``Fires like this are extremely rare. The last one occurred at a Franklin County plant in 1993 when a transformer exploded,'' Fox said.

An unidentified worker at the plant said the turbine was located on the fifth grade, which is underground.

No damage estimates are available. The Venice plant was built in 1942 and produced power by burning oil and natural gas. Fox said the natural gas system was shut down by workers before the fire reached it and survived the fire relatively unscathed.

Despite the survival of the natural gas system, AmerenUE spokesman Kim Holshouser said the company had no idea when the plant would be back on line.

In the meantime, Fox said power plants in Franklin County, South St. Louis County and St. Charles, all in Missouri, are providing power to customers.

``We have sufficient generating capacity to cover the area,'' he said.

Venice Police Chief James Newsome said the streets were relatively quiet Thursday night in his city despite the blackout that followed the plant fire -- thanks to help from the Illinois State Police, Madison, Brooklyn and Granite City police departments and Madison County sheriff's department. He said no thefts or burglaries were reported Thursday night following the explosion.

``We got a lot of phone calls, but we didn't have any troubles,'' Newsome said.

The plant is on the east bank of the Mississippi River, at the foot of the McKinley Bridge, which was closed and became the command center for the disaster. On Friday, bits of yellow crime scene tape littered the area just below the toll booths at the bridge.

Security guard Dale Lowe checked in AmerenUE employees as they headed down the road to the plant.

``No employees are being allowed into the building yet. We have to determine that it is completely safe before we can allow that,'' Holshouser said.

The fire began about 6:10 p.m. Thursday with two explosions and then a fire. The main fire was out by 8:45 p.m. and firefighters had all hot spots extinguished by 3 a.m. Friday

Published Saturday, August 12, 2000, in the Belleville News-Democrat


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 12, 2000.

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