$20 copper theft nearly ended in tragedy

Date published: September 6, 2012 at 9:30 am | Comments

Copper cable thieves who struck in Kawerau are lucky to be alive after their actions caused the explosion of a Horizon Energy power pole over the weekend.

Horizon operations manager Derek Caudwell said the theft of a small section of conductor and tampering with a switch at Kawerau resulted in a fireball and the complete destruction of the equipment.

“At 2.43pm on Saturday, someone removed a copper earth wire with a scrap value of around $20,” Mr Caudwell said.

“In the process, a lock was broken and switchgear carrying 11,000 volts and over 400 amps of current was partially operated.”

The fireball blew the equipment apart, spreading burning debris over a 5m radius.

“Quite honestly, whoever was involved is very lucky to be alive. It is highly likely that they have suffered burns at least.”

Horizon is prepared to offer a reward of up to $5000 for information leading to the arrest and successful conviction of the person or people involved.

He said a disturbing trend was emerging where people are risking their lives to steal low-value items, possibly to sell as scrap metal.

“In the process, the individual or individuals involved are also damaging equipment and putting our staff and the public at risk,” Mr Caudwell said.

The incident has prompted Horizon Energy, the owner of the networks which distribute electricity to businesses and households in the Eastern Bay, to make it clear that such interference is incredibly dangerous and foolish, presenting a real danger of electrocution to those involved for low-value scrap metal.

“Serious incidents of vandalism are rare, but cause interruptions to electricity supply, destroy costly equipment and presents unnecessary risks to our staff, the public and the vandals,” Mr Caudwell said.

“Horizon Energy is disappointed that anyone would endanger themselves, our staff and the public by breaching obvious safety barriers,” he said.

“We are concerned for the safety of the perpetrators who are risking their lives to steal earth conductor, which has little scrap worth, but is essential for the safe operation of electrical equipment.

“In the interests of safety we would encourage anyone with relevant information on this particular incident, or who notices any suspicious activity, to notify Horizon Energy at 0800 467 496 or call the police immediately or use CrimeStoppers Anonymous 0800 555 111.”

Incidences of vandalism and theft of electricity equipment aren’t limited to the Eastern Bay.

In May 2012, an 18-year-old was hospitalised in Northland after receiving an electric shock while allegedly trying to steel copper.

Scrap metal dealers have been advised to be vigilant and question individuals on the origins of copper wire which may come from electricity distribution networks.

Anyone with information relating to Saturday’s incident is requested to contact Senior Sergeant Mark Van der Kley at the Kawerau Police Station (07) 323 1400 or the Whakatane Police Station on (07) 308 5255.

Source: Rotorua Daily Post