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Crews start relighting pilot lights in Aspen after gas outage; restoration could take days

Black Hills Energy asks customers to clear snow from meters, to be at home for restoration
aspen gas outage space heaters
Posted at 11:21 AM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 20:41:33-05

DENVER – Crews from Black Hills Energy started relighting people’s gas-powered appliances and pilot lights Tuesday morning in Pitkin County, but officials with the company said that it could potentially take several days for all customers to see their gas services restored.

The company said Tuesday morning that more than 160 technicians worked overnight to purge and re-pressurize the system and had started the relighting process for “critical customers.”

A spokesperson told Denver7 that the technicians are working in a grid pattern across the city of Aspen to relight pilot lights and that the company hoped to have service restored to at least half of the roughly 3,500 customers currently without gas by the end of the day.

Residential properties will be prioritized during daylight hours, and commercial and government buildings will be worked on after 11 p.m., the company said.

But it could take “several days” for all customers to see their service restored, the company said. Black Hills Energy is asking people without service to clear their meters and clear snow from the path to the meters and their homes, and for people to be at home during the day for when technicians arrive.

For people who were unable to pick up a space heater on Monday, they are still available at the Aspen Fire Department headquarters at 420 East Hopkins and will be available through 11 p.m. Tuesday, the city of Aspen said. People who are unable to go to the police station can request a space heater by calling 970-379-1490.

The city of Aspen declared a local disaster emergency Tuesday afternoon because of the ongoing gas outage. It gives the city manager to authority to shelter people who are vulnerable for several days, to access properties housing vulnerable individuals or properties, and to apply for disaster aid and assistance.

The city can put the declaration in effect for up to seven days, but it can be extended by the city council if needed.

“As stated in the declaration, the City also faces the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints of the outage occurring during a holiday week,” the city said in a statement. “The ongoing natural gas outage has created the potential for significant risk to the community's safety and welfare based on the cold winter temperatures. The City believes this action will help to enact emergency action as needed to avert danger or damage.”

Black Hills Energy said in a statement Tuesday afternoon it continued to be focused on restoring gas services into tomorrow at least. The company is also asking owners and managers of unoccupied properties to have a friend or neighbor turn on cold water faucets to drip, or completely shut off water and flush the pipes, in order to keep them from freezing.

The company is scheduling appointments for Dec. 31 starting Dec. 30 for crews to come turn gas service back on at unoccupied properties.

The company has posted a new FAQ for people affected by the outage as well.

The outage was caused by vandalism discovered Saturday evening on three gas line sites in Aspen and Pitkin County, officials said. The company shut off service to customers Sunday and Monday had worked through the night to purge the system before services could be restored.

The vandalism to the sites is now a criminal investigation led by the Aspen Police Department, with assistance from the FBI and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the sites had the name of a group, Earth First, written on it, but officials on Monday declined to elaborate on whether the name had any connection to the vandalism. Law enforcement officials said Monday they did not believe the vandalism would qualify as terrorism.

“The word ‘attack’ has been thrown around a lot,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Joe DiSalvo during a meeting Monday. “It’s not the word I would use. It was an intentional attack to disrupt gas service in and around Aspen.”

Crimes under investigation include endangering a public utility, burglary and criminal tampering, said Aspen Police Assistance Chief Bill Linn.

A tip line for the investigation has been set up at 970-924-0614.

Click here for the latest from Black Hills Energy, which is asking that no one attempt to relight their appliances on their own. People can call 888-890-5554 with non-emergency questions.