Clear Creek County sheriff’s office and the plant owner, Xcel Energy, disclosed the fatalities a few hours ago. The deaths came as a further shock as emergency crews had been in contact earlier with five trapped workers who had climbed away from the fire, said to be due to chemicals, and no injuries were then reported.

The fire broke out early afternoon yesterday during maintenance shutdown at the plant, which has two162 pump-turbine units. The plant is in the Rocky Mountains at an altitude of approximately 10,000 ft (3048m) and has been in operation since 1967.

Nine workers were 1500ft-2000ft (457m-609m) underground and applying an epoxy coating to the inside of the penstock for corrosion protection when the fire started around 14:00hrs local time. Four of the nine were working below the elevation of the fire and managed to escape while the five working above climbed higher, to some 1000ft (just over 300m) above the blaze.

Emergency fire crews and mine rescue teams were called to assist. They were in contact with the workers, air was piped to them and oxygen lowered. The crews had planned to reach the workers from the top of the penstock but later changed the plan to approach them from below once the fire was out, but found them dead.

The five dead workers have yet to be examined by the coroner and have not yet been identified nor have their families been informed. Xcel Energy expressed it sympathy to the families and to the co-workers of those who died, and said it would be co-operating with the authorities to determine the cause of the fatal accident.

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