‘Substantial’ theft of copper wire cuts power to Ditidaht community

BC Hydro has had to cut power to 88 homes at the Ditidaht First Nation after copper wire was stolen from 200 hydro poles.

A substantial theft of copper wire between China Creek and Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island has forced BC Hydro to cut power to 88 homes on the Ditidaht First Nation reserve.

On Thursday, March 14 a BC Hydro crew responding to a service call at Ditidaht discovered a substantial amount of copper wire had been stolen off approximately 200 hydro poles. Copper ground wire conductors were ripped off the poles along a 62-kilometre line, BC Hydro community relations manager Ted Olynyk said.

Power was cut to the entire community at 5 p.m. Friday and likely won’t be reconnected until at least 5 p.m. on Saturday. Port Alberni RCMP are also investigating the theft.

“It was a very difficult decision on our part,” Olynyk said about de-energizing the community. “It is not something we like to do. Safety is No. 1 for us because we’re dealing with electricity.”

BC Hydro won’t know the extent of the damage to the China Creek line or the cost of replacing all the lines until after Saturday.

“We’re still determining the severity of the problem. Tomorrow (Saturday) our crews will be on site doing repairs and we’ll have a better idea of the extent to the damage of our system.

“Right now we’re trying to make it safe.”

The theft was discovered after BC Hydro crews responded to a call from Ditidaht about kids getting shocked after touching a fence, Olynyk said. Crews fixed that problem but in the process realized the ground wire was cut to a nearby pole. Further examination uncovered more poles with severed wires.

Olynyk said people in the community noticed about a month ago that things weren’t right, like the fence causing shocks, but no one called until Thursday.

“We’re lucky this didn’t cause any serious injuries to a member of the public or to our crews,” he said.

The copper ground wires are buried in the ground beneath each hydro pole and run up the poles to the hydro wires. Copper is the best conduit for grounding wires, which is why they are widely used, Olynyk explained.

Olynyk has seen some brazen thefts in his time, but says he thinks this theft may be unprecedented. In January 2012, the Capital Region in Victoria was hit with several large thefts of underground copper grounding wire, including 5,000 pounds from Langford.

The provincial government enacted the Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act in July 2012 in an attempt to deter and track metal thieves. Olynyk said BC Hydro supports the new law, “but we’ve had instances where people try to use chainsaws to cut down a pole. They go to a lot of extremes to get copper wire.”

Port Alberni RCMP members are seeking the public’s assistance as part of their investigation, Const. Shelly Schedewitz said in a press release.

“If anyone witnessed this crime, or can provide information about it, they are asked to contact the local detachment at 723-2424, or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS,” she said.

editor@albernivalleynews.com