Russia's Far East region. Photo: Wikipedia commons.

A fire at a power plant serving Yakutsk city in Far East Russia caused a blackout and loss of heating to as many as 300,000 people in freezing temperatures on Monday. One worker at the plant was hospitalized with serious burns.

The fire triggered the emergency shutdown system at the Yakutsk state district power station and the Yakutsk thermal power plant, cutting off power and heating to Yakutsk, the main city of the Yakutia region, and nearby districts for six hours. Temperatures in the region at the time ranged from -2 to -6 degrees Celsius.

Local residents learned about the accident from social networks and due to a lack of information about the scale of the outage, there was a run on products in stores.

Head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Vladimir Puchkov, declared an emergency in the region because of freezing temperatures.  The region has a population of around 1 million, but covers an area almost the size of India.

Power was partially restored in the early hours of Monday, yet cuts continued well into the rest of the day as engineers switched power loads between stations, local power utility Yakutskenergo said in a statement on its website.

As of Wednesday, the utility’s website was still warning of power shortages.

While the cause of the fire is being investigated, it was an accident waiting to happen because of old equipment at the plant, said Anatoly Shtym, the head of the Department of Thermal Power Engineering and Heat Engineering of the Far Eastern Federal University.

A new power plant is under construction, the Yakutskaya GRES-2, but it is well behind schedule, Shtym said.

“The whole problem is that the equipment is old, worn out, and GRES-2 is not in operation. This is a common energy problem in the Far East, the wear of equipment is the highest in Russia, affecting about 70 percent” of all installed equipment, Shtym said.

The new power plant boasts modern gas turbines from General Electric and it was set to open in 2015. The launch was postponed to 2016 and then delayed again by at least a year. Commissioning is currently scheduled for later this year.

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