A U.S. District Court jury on Tuesday acquitted Xcel Energy and its subsidiary Public Service Co. of Colorado of criminal charges on five counts stemming from an October 2007 fire at the utility’s Cabin Creek hydropower plant near Georgetown, Colo., that killed five workers.

Workers from industrial painting firm California-based RPI Coating Inc. were relining a penstock-a drained water pipe-when chemical vapors burst into flames, blocking the workers’ escape. The five men died from smoke inhalation.

Federal prosecutors argued that the utility had ignored safety rules that required it to have a rescue plan in place for workers and other precautions to protect them as they worked in the tunnel. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board last year concluded that Xcel and RPI Coatings had failed to implement safety procedures for safe handling of flammable liquids, and the hazard of static discharge, as well as emergency response and rescue, and fire prevention.

But the jury, after a 16-day trial in Denver, found Xcel and its subsidiary not guilty on five counts of willfully violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations causing death.

Xcel attorney Cliff Stricklin reportedly told the Denver Post that the utility was grateful for the jury’s verdict, but that Xcel recognized "there are still people grieving for this tragedy."

Reuters reports that two executives for RPI Coatings are scheduled to stand trial later this year on the same charge.

Sources: POWERnews, Denver Post, Reuters