UPDATE (Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.): 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. Click here for the latest.
DENVER – Black Hills Energy crews continued to work to shut off gas service to around 3,500 customers Monday afternoon after three of their sites were vandalized over the weekend, and officials in Pitkin County said those customers in the Aspen area would remain without heat and hot water until at least Tuesday morning.
One of the sites vandalized Saturday night was in the city of Aspen and the two others were in Pitkin County. Officials from both the county and city said Monday afternoon that there was a criminal investigation underway.
The vandalism was noticed Saturday evening after customers reported losing gas pressure, and as the investigation continued Sunday, Black Hills Energy found more issues with gas lines and started to turn off meters for the affected customers.
Vance Crocker, the vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy, said Monday evening during a virtual public meeting that crews hoped to have the full system shut off by mid-to-late Monday evening, and that crews would then go around to each of the customers’ locations to be sure the lines are purged and can hopefully and safely be turned back, though he did not specify a time of when that would happen, even though he said earlier in the day he hoped the process would be completed by 11 p.m. Monday. Black Hills Energy plans to have around 100 employees from across the state working to restore the outage.
“We must first make sure all gas meters are off, then purge the system so it’s ready for the reintroduction of the natural gas supply. Finally, our technicians will go door-to-door and relight each customer’s gas appliances,” Crocker said in a statement.
Black Hills Energy crews will then start relighting people’s pilot lights and other gas-powered appliances starting at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, county officials said. They are asking that no one attempt to relight their appliances on their own. People can call 888-890-5554 with non-emergency questions.
The FBI has been called in to assist with the investigation since it involves critical utility infrastructure, and the investigation is being led by Aspen police, according to APD’s Bill Linn.
Linn said that the vandalism all happened around the same time Saturday and involved vandalism of closed gas lines and that two of the three sites were open and not inside buildings.
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. He said he 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. “It’s not the word I would use. It was an intentional attack to disrupt gas service in and around Aspen.”
Physical evidence, including footprints, have been recovered from all three scenes, officials said.
Crimes under investigation include endangering a public utility, burglary and criminal tampering, Linn said.
A tip line for the investigation has been set up at 970-924-0614. The county jail is operating off electric heat, DiSalvo said.
Linn said that a limited number of space heaters provided by Black Hills Energy are available for pickup at Aspen police headquarters, located at 540 East Main Street. They were out by 6:20 p.m. but said that there were another 3,600 en route.
The city is asking people to park on the north side of Main Street or in parking spaces in front of the Concept 600 Building. People who pull up and open their passenger windows will get heaters dropped inside for contactless distribution.
Heaters were also being distributed at the Aspen fire headquarters, located at 420 East Hopkins Avenue. The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office asked that people only take one per household.
Officers with @AspenPolice have been working through the evening to distribute heaters to residents in and around #aspencolorado— CB Cotton (@CB_Cotton) December 29, 2020
By tomorrow, just over 6,000 heaters will have been distributed. @DenverChannel pic.twitter.com/sv6fCQlF8V
People who are unable to come to the police station can request one by calling 970-920-5310 and an officer will bring one to them as soon as possible.
Pitkin County and the city of Aspen are holding a community meeting Monday at 6 p.m. on Zoom, which you can attend by clicking here.
Click here for the latest from Black Hills Energy.