Electricity in the Neighborhood—What to Look For
When thinking of your neighbors, chances are that you won’t be thinking of your power lines. Unlike the neighbor on your right who may keep you up late at night with loud music or the one on your left who’s constantly having wild parties; power lines are almost invisible as they reside high in the sky above your home. However, you can be quickly reminded of their presence with a flicker of light in your home. Power lines may be quiet and almost invisible, but they can be a neighbor that poses a serious electrical hazard if completely forgotten.
Trees are another quiet but dangerous neighbor. When trees are close to power lines, trees can be blown over in strong winds, pulling the line down from supporting towers or poles while it remains energized. Trees then become “electrified” and can carry this electric current down through their trunks, shocking a passersby, a pet, or an object that get too close. The chances of a tree becoming “electrified” are drastically increased when it is planted under power lines or right next to them.
Like water, electricity, seeks the most direct path to the ground through nearby objects. Thus, trees are the best chance for electricity being carried in high-voltage power lines to reach the ground. However, in its quest to reach the ground, a tree does not even have to be touching a power line to carry electricity. Electricity from high-voltage power lines can arc, or flashover, to nearby trees without the two ever physically touching.
Arcing or flashover between power lines and trees can occur in several conditions. Additional weight from snow and ice can bend or break tree branches bringing them close enough to cause an arcing or flashover. A voltage surge on a power line from a nearby lightening strike can cause a tree to become “electrified.” Often during warm weather or when carrying heavy electrical loads, power lines heat up and stretch. This makes power lines longer and sag as much as 15 or 20 feet, making the lines even closer to trees.
The electrical current needed to light a 10-watt light bulb is more than enough to kill an individual. The electric current caused by an arcing or flashover can easily kill an individual caught near the tree or cause a fire.
Tips for Power Line Safety in Your Neighborhood:
- Make sure to always look for nearby power lines before beginning to cut down any tree. If a tree might have fallen into a power line, ask your local utility company to inspect it before cutting it.
- Treat all power lines as energized. Never climb or attempt to handle a tree that has a limb caught in a power line. You may not see any visible evidence that the tree is “electrified” or dangerous.
- You should never handle trees that can reach a power line. If a tree falls into a power line, you should stay clear and call your local utility.
- Make sure to maintain the required clearances between any equipment and power lines. If you find equipment that does come into contact with a power line—stop immediately. After calling emergency help, stay on the phone with them until help arrives. Keep people away from the site.
- If a fire starts from a fallen power line, contain the fire if possible, but keep people away from the site of the electrical hazard. Do not use water on or near the fallen power line. Notify the local fire department and local utility immediately. Make sure others stay clear of the line and treat it as energized.
In addition to taking the necessary steps to respond to an electrical emergency, you can help stop potential power line problems before they start. Put the power back in your control by practicing these safety measures:
- If you notice anything such as trees or branches that might interfere with power lines or pose a serious threat inform your local utility company.
- If you’re planning to plant trees on your property make sure not to plant them directly under or near power lines.
- Shrubs, hedges and other plants must also be kept away from transmission towers and poles.