Michigan asks people to lower their heat after utility station catches fire

Michigan is never the warmest of states in winter. It’s easy to joke there that Hell has frozen over, because the tiny lakeside community with that name very well might this time of year.

During this week’s brutally dangerous freeze in the Midwest — it was 9 below zero Thursday morning in Detroit, 11 below in Hell — Michiganders probably feel like cranking up the heat.

But a certain mishap had the governor asking residents to do just the opposite — and they listened.

On Wednesday night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked everyone in the state’s lower peninsula to turn their thermostats down to 65 degrees.

A fire at Consumers Energy’s Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in suburban Detroit shut down all gas flow from the facility. The station is responsible for about one-fifth of the state’s natural gas storage supply.

Since gas delivery has been inhibited, Whitmer made a late-night appeal.

“I’m asking that you please, tonight, turn down your thermostat.”

Consumers Energy on Thursday afternoon thanked residential and business customers and said they will be able to turn their thermostats back up after midnight Thursday, at least 12 hours before first expected.

“Because of your swift action and understanding, we were able to continue to supply natural gas service to critical facilities including hospitals, law enforcement offices and nonprofits, despite an unprecedented facility fire and record-breaking extreme temperatures,” the utility said on social media.

Businesses are stopping work to conserve energy, too

The governor’s message wasn’t aimed just at homes.

Several businesses, including General Motors in Flint, suspended operations Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the request of Consumers Energy, the utility’s CEO Patti Poppe said.

All facilities owned by the state were lowering their thermostats by 5 degrees, too, the office of the state Public Service chairman said Wednesday.

The cause of the fire wasn’t immediately known. The utility said it hoped to partially restore the damaged compressor station this week.

The state took extra measures to keep people safe in the extreme cold. State government offices were closed for a third day; mail delivery was suspended out of concern for carriers’ safety; and warming centers were open.

The cold has been deadly. A 70-year-old man was found dead — frozen — near his Detroit home Wednesday morning, city police said. At least 16 people have died in the United States related to extreme weather this week.

While Detroit saw a low of 14 below zero Thursday, it was in positive territory by late afternoon. It will be much warmer Friday, with little biting wind and highs in the upper teens.