Firefighters stand by Sunday night as a fire burns at an electrical substation near the intersection of Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40. An explosion at the substation caused a citywide power outage.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Firefighters stand by Sunday night as a fire burns at an electrical substation near the intersection of Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40. An explosion at the substation caused a citywide power outage.

Explosion blacks out Steamboat

Residents report flash of light from outage caused by animal

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Electrical explosion

— An animal caused a Sunday night explosion at Yampa Valley Electric Association's Mount Werner substation, sending an enormous flash of light into the sky and knocking out power for about an hour across Steamboat Springs and much of Routt County.

Larry Covillo, YVEA president and general manager, said a small- to medium-sized animal got into the Mount Werner substation and caused an explosion. That spread into what Covillo called "a big arcing fire," which went through YVEA relays and affected power running through the company's substation on the west end of town.

"A critter got into our substation. We can't tell what it is right now," Covillo said at the station Sunday night.

Covillo said he did not know what part of the substation the animal got into, and that YVEA probably would not be certain what happened until the end of the holiday weekend Tuesday.

"We know where the animal pieces are, but we're not sure whether it got in one of the transformers or one of the (other pieces of equipment)," Covillo said.

Technicians restored power to most service areas by 11 p.m. or shortly thereafter.

The outage left the city entirely dark on the eve of Memorial Day.

Law enforcement officers were dispatched to a variety of calls during the blackout - including reports of fireworks and unruly juveniles - and provided traffic control at busy intersections on U.S. Highway 40.

"It actually went pretty smoothly, considering there was no power between here and Stagecoach," Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Gerard Geis said. "Nothing major - outside of the substation blowing up."

Sgt. Miles DeYoung of the Routt County Sheriff's Office characterized the outage as ultimately a "minor event."

"Everything's up and running - other than a few burglar alarms that automatically tripped when the power came back on. We didn't have anything significant," DeYoung said late Sunday night.

Flashes in the sky from the outage could be seen as far west as Milner and left many residents with a story to tell.

"We heard sounds," said Steamboat resident John Schoen, who lives near the substation. "We opened the deck door, and we saw all of Mount Werner lit up, kind of like fireworks."

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Lt. Michael Arce was off duty and at his home near the substation and went to the fire department immediately following the explosion.

"My lights started flickering in the house," Arce said. "I stepped out on my balcony, looked outside and figured it was the transformer. I drove over to make sure everyone was OK and wondered what was going on."

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