Smart meters may be linked to a series of house fires and one death in two Nevada communities, and the fire chiefs of the towns have asked the state Public Utilities Commission to launch an investigation, which it is doing.
Reno, Nevada Fire Chief Michael Hernandez and Sparks, Nevada, Fire Chief Tom Garrison say they know of nine fires which could have been caused by smart meters. A 61-year-old woman was fatally burned in one of them, The Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
A North Carolina company, Sensus, makes the meters in question.
“Based on physical evidence … the Sensus meter cannot be eliminated as the ignition source,” forensic investigator Andrew Thoresen wrote of a blaze that killed Michelle Sherman, 61. “Data tends to suggest the meter may have failed.”
(Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth report on smart meters here.)
The city of Reno hired Thoresen to investigate the fire and the possibility that a smart meter manufactured by Sensus and installed by NV Energy – the local power company – started the fire in Sherman’s townhome on Rhinestone Circle in Reno. The official cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Concern is Widespread
“Yes, it’s a small number, but as fire chief, when I start to see a pattern, it gets my attention,” Hernandez said of the smart meters. “That’s why we are red-flagging this and reporting it to the proper people who regulate this kind of thing.”
The chiefs are suspicious of the meters because in seven of the fires only the meter itself and the surrounding wall was destroyed.
Another incident in Reno also points to smart meters as the cause. There, a smart meter burst into flames when a man flipped a breaker switch. His face was burned but he was able to douse the blaze with a fire extinguisher.
State Investigating Meters
Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has agreed to investigate the smart meters, and an attorney ordered NV Energy to turn over all documents related to the fires and the meters.
“Given the lingering safety question presented by the Reno and Sparks fire departments’ expert, staff believes it would be prudent to gather some information from NV Energy regarding any fires which have occurred where NV Energy equipment may have been involved,” PUC lawyer Tammy Cordova wrote.
Not everybody is convinced that the meters are a menace. Nevada State Fire Marshal Peter Mulvihill thinks the gadgets are safe, although he said the new fires warrant an investigation. NV Energy, which has installed 1.1 million meters, also defends their safety.
“Based on the conclusion of a third-party investigation into this tragic incident, the electric meter did not cause the fire,” NV Energy spokeswoman Faye Anderson noted in a written statement. “The safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment is paramount to us. This investigation has been a priority since it was brought to our attention and we have cooperated fully with the Reno Fire Department.”
A Gazette-Journal editorial supported the new investigation, saying “previous investigations into the causes of the fires have been insufficient and that there may yet be a problem that needs quick action to ensure individuals and property aren’t in danger.”
Not Just Nevada
A number of utilities in both the United States and Canada are removing smart meters because of potential fire danger, The Gazette Journal noted. Incidents of meter removal include:
- Portland General Electric in Oregon announced it would replace 70,000 smart meters after three house fires.
- In July, the provincial government in Saskatchewan ordered utility SaskPower to remove 105,000 smart meters from homes and businesses following eight unexplained fires, the CBC reported. “The concerns about safety are paramount here,” Bill Boyd, the Canadian province’s minister responsible for energy and resources, told the press. “The concerns are significant enough that we believe that any time that families are at risk here in Saskatchewan, actions have to be taken. That’s why we’ve directed SaskPower accordingly.”
- Lakeland Electric in Lakeland, Florida, will replace 10,657 residential smart meters. The utility’s general manager, Joel Ivy, told The Ledger News newspaper that there is a danger of the devices overheating. Six fires in the Lakeland area are blamed on the meters.
- PECO Energy in Philadelphia removed 186,000 smart meters in 2012 because of fire concerns.
Fires sparked by smart meters can be dangerous because they often start outside of the house and cannot be detected by smoke detectors, Garrison said.
“It can burn a long time and enter the attic or the walls,” Garrison said of a smart-meter blaze. “The occupants inside may not even be aware the house is on fire. This is very alarming to me.”
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