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Copper thieves stealing electrical lines in Red Deer are causing damage, risking lives

An angry homeowner says it will cost him to replace ruined appliances
Copper thieves are stealing grounding lines in Red Deer, causing a lot of damage and taking a big personal risk. (Advocate file photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Vandalism to electrical lines caused blackouts and power surges in two Red Deer neighborhoods, wrecking appliances in some homes.

Early on Tuesday in Fairview, thieves pulled a grounding line from a power pole, presumably to steal the copper wire inside, said City of Red Deer utilities manager Jim Jorgensen.

The thieves risked their lives and caused a lot of damage for what would have been a paltry amount of copper, Jorgensen added.

Grounding lines run down the side of power poles to conduct surplus electricity to the ground, if needed. Jorgensen said the thieves could not have known if the Fairview line was electrified when they stripped off its protective cover, cut it at ground level, and then pulled it off the pole.

They would have been killed if it was, he added.

Authorities believe a vehicle was most likely used to forcefully snap the thick line at the top of the pole, damaging a transformer. This caused a black-out and power surge to about a dozen Fairview homes, ruining many household electronics.

One angry Fairview homeowner said it will cost him out of pocket to replace several ruined appliances — including a fridge — as his insurance carries a $1,000 deductible. The resident believes the city’s insurance should help cover these kinds of costs.

Jorgensen isn’t sure if damage to private property is covered. But he advised impacted residents to try filing a claim on the City of Red Deer’s website. Each application is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

He believes these crimes are “very frustrating on many levels — starting with (thieves) putting themselves at risk, putting our staff who respond at risk, and also introducing risk to citizens.” Jorgensen noted it took a city electrical crew a few hours to repair the damage in Fairview.

And this isn’t the first such incident in Red Deer. The week before, another grounding line was stolen in Riverside Meadows, he added — again causing a localized black-out and damage.

Red Deer RCMP is investigating these incidents.

If any suspicious activity is noticed around electricity poles, Jorgensen urges citizens to immediately report it to the city or police. “We are trying to prevent these things from happening again and (copper wire theft) it is an industry-wide challenge… so if you see something and it looks weird, say something.”

Corp. Troy Savinkoff, a spokesperson from Alberta RCMP confirmed that copper wire theft has been a growing trend since the price of copper has risen. Much like with catalytic converter thefts, thieves will break down the electrical line into components and then try selling these to salvage yards.

Savinkoff said much police attention is directed at the businesses that buy this stolen property. If the market for stolen copper was wiped out then the thefts would stop, he added.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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