BC HYDRO SMART METER FIRE : Fire guts home after smart meter installed

BC HYDRO SMART METER FIRE : Fire guts home after smart meter installed

BC Hydro says owner is responsible for ensuring safety

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun August 3, 2012
Trish Regan stands in front of her fire-damaged home in Mission. The fire began at the base of the electric meter one day after a smart meter was installed.

Trish Regan stands in front of her fire-damaged home in Mission. The fire began at the base of the electric meter one day after a smart meter was installed.

Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, PNG , Vancouver Sun

BC Hydro claims a Mission homeowner is ultimately liable for a fire that originated at the base of a smart meter one day after it was installed.

A report by the Mission fire department said the blaze, which destroyed Trish Regan’s house in the 7900 block of Burdock Street and leaped to the roof of a neighbouring home on June 15, originated at an insulating “lug” in the lower left corner of the meter base.

The report says the terminal, which attached the base to the home, appeared cracked and “radiated heat to combust the wall at or near the meter base.”

The base is the mounting plate for the meter, which measures how much electricity a home consumes during each utility-service billing period. Electricity must pass from the meter through the lugs to connect with the house wiring.

BC Hydro maintains the meter base is part of the house and thus any damage or faulty wiring is the customer’s responsibility.

But Regan argues she had no idea she was responsible for the lug, noting smart meters are locked in place on the base and she has no access to them.

Furthermore, Regan said the crack could have been caused by the BC Hydro installer, noting that she wasn’t home when he arrived, but her daughter witnessed him trying three or four times to jam the meter onto the base.

“If there’s an existing crack they’re not supposed to put a meter on it,” she said. “I’ve lived in my house for 20 years and the day after they put in a smart meter, it burns down.”

The blaze destroyed Regan’s home, three vehicles in her drive-way, and damaged her neighbour’s house.

She is also increasingly frustrated by the Mission fire department, who initially told her the fire was caused by a crack on the base of the smart meter; it later revised its verdict to “electrical in nature.” Her insurance company filed a freedom of information request, which indicated the fire did originate at the base of the smart meter.

BC Hydro spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor said the Crown corporation has fixed about 1,000 homes with faulty or damaged wiring before it installed the smart meters, but residents should be ensuring they have electricians check the wiring regularly.

“We are fixing that for the customer free of charge as long as they give us permission,” she said. “Those are cases of a fire risk. They are potential accidents waiting to happen.

“We’re always [doing work] on good faith that the customer has working, functional equipment to support our infrastructure.”

The meter bases function like household electrical sockets and are built to withstand meters being plugged in and pulled out multiple times, Verschoor said.

If a resident is concerned about their meter base, they can call Hydro to come unlock the meter and remove it for about $100, she added.

Verschoor acknowledged the technician in Regan’s case did not see the crack when installing the smart meter at her home, but wouldn’t speculate as to what caused the damage, saying the issue is still under investigation.

“It’s possible there was a pre-existing condition that wasn’t evident,” Verschoor said.

The smart meter itself was eliminated as the cause of the fire. The utility said of the 1.5 million smart meters it has installed to date, only 250 residents have complained of faulty meter bases.

ksinoski@vancouversun.com With files from Mike Hager

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COMMENT:

The article notes the fire occurred JUNE 15,  approx. 6 weeks ago. It appears it has reached a whole new level since the owners Insurer has done an FOI request.

The meter base has (4) points of contact “Lugs”, to accomodate a meters  (4) prongs. Many of these meter bases are old, and the parts “may” deteriorate over time aka become more fragile. These Lugs are often imbedded in fragile material..ie bakelite, ceramics etc. Regardless if care is not taken anything , even new ones  can break or be damaged with an improper  installation.

 

The evidence clearly suggests that the smart meter installation weakened one of the lugs, and this appears to be a classic “arc”ing situation. Keep in mind the installers have been trained with a few weeks of training, may have quotas to meet, and not familiar with all the negative possibilities.

BC Hydro should not be trying to weasel out and point fingers elsewhere, it should be fully willing  to co-operate with  a full investigation before someone dies.

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