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Power pole wires may spark wildfires

Specialists were brought in to investigate
February 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The state agency that regulates utility companies is investigating the possibility that guy wires, the traditional means of keeping power poles straight in the air, may spark brush fires.One electrical wiring specialist hired by the insurance industry says the familiar cables, which are variously called tie-downs, down-guys or deadmen, can spark fires in high winds.

Power companies all across the state use similar systems, but the probe so far is limited to the San Diego Gas & Electric Company, the paper said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday that state utility regulators are worried that the traditional power pole anchoring systems trouble them, and have launched a probe into the anchoring systems used by SDG&E.

Three SDG&E powerlines failed last during last October's hurricane-force windstorm, sparking massive fires. But it is not known of the guy-wire systems were the weak point.

State investigators from another agency are still investigating the cause of the Canyon Fire in Malibu, which firefighters said spread from a Southern California Edison power pole that fell in the wind. Residents near that pole said it had been leaning over, and had complained to regulators before the fire that the guy wires were insufficient.

The Union-Tribune reported that some guy wires it checked in brushfire areas were loose, and could sway more than a foot out of position, a violation of state laws. Some guy wires were blackened where the attached to poles or the ground, indicating that fire-causing jolts of electrocity had travelled down the wires at some point.

SDG&E officials said the blackening was either old paint, or was caused by brushfores that burned up to their equipment.

State officials told the paper that the findings by the insurance company expert has them "extremely concerned."

"It may come out that there's a rule change to deal with this sort of an issue," said Richard Clark, doirector of the Public Utility Commission's Consumer Protection and Safety Division.

 

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