Wind, fires, snow: Some of the 100,000 Xcel customers affected by three-pronged disaster still waiting for power, gas service

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An aerial shot of the Marshall fire burn scar near a neighborhood in Superior, Colo.

On Sunday, Xcel Energy's Colorado president Alice Jackson walked through the company’s recovery effort after the back-to-back-to-back disasters that occurred Dec. 30.

“As we move through the next several days, it's going to be continued, hard work for all of us,” Jackson said.

She described winds that began at 9 a.m. Thursday — with gusts of 105 mph clocked by midday — as the first “event.” Then came the fires, which spread rapidly in the wind and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes in a matter of hours. Then on Friday, a heavy winter storm not only hurt fire investigation and response efforts, but left thousands bracing for freezing temperatures without electricity or gas.

Gov. Jared Polis described the difficulty of the situation.  

“When you have 105 mile an hour winds, no matter what resources you have, you can't even fly aircraft. It's hard to do firefighting activity when it can jump right over the firefighters as it did in this case,” Polis said. 

All told, roughly 100,000 Xcel Energy customers in Colorado were affected, Jackson said. 

Outside the burn zone, 600 residents were still without electricity on Sunday, though Jackson hoped to have those mostly mountain residents restored by the end of the weekend. 

Inside the burn zone, 1,000 customers were still without electricity. Jackson said Xcel was working to restore power “safely and reliably,” but did not specify a timeline. Xcel will have to visit each home and business to identify which buildings can have the lights turned back on.  

Gas restoration is proving to be more complicated. 

On Thursday, Xcel was ordered to cut off gas service to 13,000 customers in the Superior and Louisville areas. As of Sunday, only 1,400 customers had been restored. The work of reconnecting the other 11,600 customers remained. 

Jackson said each building or home must be visited individually to have meters and gas cut off manually, to disconnect them from the system.  

“After that, the second step is we have to go through a process of what's known as purging and then re-pressurizing our gas system,” Jackson said. “We go through that second process to make sure that the infrastructure is sound and we are able to continue that service to customers.” 

After that, maintenance crews revisit each home, business and building again to restore the gas service. This involves a person entering each structure to reignite any pilot lights. 

Jackson hoped to have completed this process by the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, for all buildings for which gas service is able to be restored. She thanked other companies that have offered Xcel support in the recovery.

“I cannot underestimate and say enough thanks to the various resources that have come, not only in the state of Colorado, but across the country,” Jackson said. “We have close to 400 different crews, currently working side by side with our own employees here in Colorado that have come [from] as far away as North Carolina and Florida, in order to be able to support the services that we provide for our customers.”

Jackson cited Regional Utilities, Black Hills, Tri-State Electric and Colorado Springs Utilities for their help.

Allison Sherry, Paolo Zialcita, and Alejandro A. Alonso Galva contributed to this report.