Residents in the Brisco and Spillimacheen area are facing an estimated $150,000 in household damages after a tree hit nearby BC Hydro lines, and it’s not yet clear if the utility will pick up the tab.
The tree knocked out power in approximately 12,000 valley homes the evening of June 30 — but not before causing a massive power surge in about 100 houses and businesses closest to the downed cottonwood.
“We were out around the campfire and it sounded like three gunshots,” recalls Warner Einer, president of Brisco’s recreation.
The sound was actually three breakers blowing, which damaged household appliances, electronics and the backup power supplies for the wireless tower he uses to operate a local broadband communication system.
“I’d never seen a surge like that ever, and the smell around our house was unbelievable,” he says. “I don’t think any surge protector on the market could have stopped it. It was a phenomenon.”
In most of the valley power came back on around midnight, though some Brisco residents say they were still without electricity at 11 a.m. the next morning.
Others who attended a community meeting in Brisco last week say they lost a variety of items to the surge, from computers and televisions to stoves, dishwashers, freezers and — in one case — a hot tub.
For at least one resident, the damage extends to household wiring.
“It was so bad at our place that when the power came back on the smoke detector that was wired into the house wiring, I couldn’t turn it off,” says David Lahoda.
“I had to disconnect it, and in doing so I discovered that the house wiring had melted where it was in contact with the smoke detector.”
Lahoda also lost various appliances and his electric boiler has stopped working.
“Thank heaven it didn’t happen in the wintertime, because we wouldn’t have any heat,” he says.
Einer says some residents saw blue flames shooting from their electrical sockets during the surge. No fires or injuries have been reported as a result of the outage.
Kevin Ramsey, BC Hydro’s acting manager for Invermere and Golden, says it’s not uncommon for a tree to come down on hydro lines, “the difference is, they don’t contact the transmission and the distribution line at one.”
That, and the fact that the tree was still alive, appears to have caused the spike in voltage. Ramsey says BC Hydro doesn’t yet know why the tree fell, and is investigating the incident to see if it’s liable for the damage caused.
While the exact monetary value of the damage isn’t known, most residents at the meeting say they lost between $1,000 and $3,000 — though early estimates run from as little as $500 in damage to more than $6,000.
Einer is encouraging residents to file electrical damage claims with BC Hydro.
However, the utility’s community relations manager Diane Tammen says it won’t make a decision about whether to reimburse residents for the damage until its investigation of the outage is finished.
“We have to gather all the information, hear what (residents) have to say, see what their claims are saying, from the people who decide to submit claims,” she says.
“Once we know exactly what happened and are able to make a determination, then we can get back to the customers.”
The investigation is expected to take about two weeks.
Brisco residents are also discussing the possibility of community action should BC Hydro decline to pay for the damage.