STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Shortly before 2 p.m. Friday, the town of Oak Creek announced a power outage spanning the entire town. Power was restored by about 10 a.m. Saturday, but they are still operating on the backup generator system.
It took a while to determine the cause, said Town Administrator Chris Johnson on Monday, but “as best as we can tell looking at it, and through our investigation, it appears there was a lightening strike to the substation that blew out a transformer.”
A band of severe weather brought scattered lightening and hail across the region Friday afternoon.
Around the same time, the entire Zirkel Wireless internet network went out. Johnson said when he first heard about the Zirkel — and related Century Link — outage, he thought it may have been related to the Oak Creek power outage.
As Oak Creek moved to their backup generator, they were having trouble with it being overloaded and backflow. A lot of the overloading “stemmed from the marijuana grow operations,” Johnson said.
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But the internet issue was completely separate — caused by a cut to a Century Link fiber line during a construction operation near Granby.
Zirkel internet was not restored to the region until about 3 p.m. Saturday.
“It was a bizarre coincidence,” Johnson said.
Oak Creek crews worked all night Friday trying to locate and isolate the issues, Johnson said, and to resolve the backflow issues.
Johnson said a new transformer is expected to arrive Monday or Tuesday and be online by the end of the day Tuesday.
Until then, Johnson urged residents and business owners to continue to conserve electricity and water.
“(Oak Creek is) having to bring individual sections online to slowly make sure we don’t trip our transformers,” according to a Town of Oak Creek social media post at about 8 a.m. Saturday. “The generators are running well. … We are in energy conservation mode right now. Our water plant is using one generator right now; therefore, we are asking people to be conservative with water usage. We are asking people to be energy conscientious for now. Please do not try to charge all your portable devices at once. Consider taking a drive in the country and plug in your devices in your vehicle.”
With the power and internet outage creating a double whammy for Oak Creek businesses and residents, some businesses remained opened Friday with cash-only payments, Johnson said, while others closed entirely.
Other businesses in the area — outside of Oak Creek but reliant on Zirkel for their credit card machines — also posted “Cash Only” signs on the door.
Throughout Friday afternoon and into Saturday, Zirkel employees, including Operations Manager Josh Nowak, kept customers updated on social media.
At 6:49 p.m. Friday, Zirkel reported on their Facebook page, “We have unfortunately received no new updates from CenturyLink regarding the progress of this outage. We are beyond frustrated that these fiber outages continue to happen and are doing everything in our power to speed up the delivery of a redundant fiber path from Project Thor.”
Project Thor was a collaboration between local governments in Colorado and private partners from 14 rural communities to stitch together a 481-mile broadband network. The project, intended to reduce outages, was completed around early April 2020.
At 8:56 p.m. on Friday, Zirkel reported, “I hear the fiber cut was located 11 miles outside of Granby; they are excavating the fiber to start working on a fix. We still don’t yet have a good ETA as to when services will be restored.”
The high capacity fiber line was apparently cut by a boring operation, Zirkel reported Saturday morning.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Zirkel reported excavating crews were still working their way through wet concrete, and the hole kept filling back up requiring a much larger area to be excavated than originally planned. At 12:12 p.m., the damage was “officially located.”
The many people now working from home expressed frustration on Zirkel’s Facebook page. Many others expressed thanks at the regular updates.
“This is the longest outage in Zirkel history and is completely outside of our control” Nowak wrote. “We are doing everything in our power to prevent outages like this both now and in the future. We understand that this is painful, but there is nothing that we can do that we’re not already doing.”
Responding to customers online, Nowak wrote, “We’re working on getting a redundant connection to the recently completed Project Thor, but the circuit hasn’t been delivered yet.”
At 2:45 p.m. Saturday,, Zirkel announced the network again was live.
Johnson said he’s been informed the town’s insurance claim could be an estimated $500,000 to $600,000.
After an extended shift starting at 3 a.m. Friday morning to put magnesium chloride on roads, the town’s small seven-member public works crew, along with other town agencies and contractors, worked all night Friday in rotating shifts on the power outage, according to Johnson.
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