Human error, not electrical malfunction sparked an electrical fire during a smart meter swap-out at a Port Alberni residence, Port Alberni Fire Chief Tim Pley said.
Fire crews responded to a call about an ‘electrical problem’ at a house in the 3200 block of Ninth Avenue just after 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
Upon arrival, firemen saw smoke coming out of the basement door adjacent to the electrical meter base. “They heard sounds of fire crackling inside the door,” Pley said.
Firemen forced their way in the basement of the house where they found a small fire burning near the electrical panel, which because it’s electric they doused with chemical extinguishers instead of water, Pley said.
Flames were making their way up the inside of the wall so firemen forced their way into the main floor of the house and stopped the fire before it went any further, Pley said.
Firemen found signs of melted electrical wire and charred wood around the electrical meter area, but human error caused the flare-up, he said.
“One of the meter technicians caused a short in the meter base when he used a tool inside it,” Pley said. “The smart meter never even got installed yet — there’s no evidence I’ve seen that they cause fires.”
Pley said he’s heard of other fires involving smart meter swap-outs. “In those cases the meter bases were old and brittle but that’s not the cause here,” Pley said.
Hydro has been cut from the home, which has now been turned back over to the owner.
“He’s going to have to get an electrician to repair the wiring and get it inspected before power can be restored,” Pley said. “He’s insured but it’s going to be a pretty big job.”
Corix Utilities has been contracted by BC Hydro to install 1.8 million smart meters throughout B.C. — 17,800 meters in Port Alberni. Corix employees and a vehicle were present at the incident on Ninth Avenue.
Corix officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
BC Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynyk confirmed that there was a problem during an installation of a smart meter in Port Alberni. “The work was done by a qualified electrician with over 15 years of experience,” Olynyk said.
Further comment about the matter will be made after Olynyk speaks with Corix officials, he said.
Hydro and Corix have put the homeowner up in a hotel. “We want to make right by the customer just as quick as we can,” Olynyk said.