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The most common reason for storm power outages is tree failure onto power and communications lines. The utilities do their best to clear the lines of branches to prevent this, but, in really strong storms, such as the ones we just experienced, this is not always enough.

When a storm passes and we first go outside out of curiosity and a need to clean up the place, it’s important to be aware of the damage of trees in contact with powerlines. Use the following safety protocols when approaching storm damaged trees that may be in contact with powerlines or powerlines that have fallen due to tree failure.

  1. Treat all fallen powerlines as ‘live.’ Just because your power is out, it does not mean the line is not energized.
  2. Never attempt to remove branches or trees from utility lines.
  3. The higher on the pole the line is, the more powerful that line is. You can also look at the ceramic insulating discs. The utilities use the bowl shaped ceramic discs as insulators between the lines and the poles. More discs = more power.
  4. Even television cable and telephone lines are capable of hurting you.
  5. Before approaching a tree that might be in direct contact with utility wires, examine it from more than one direction. Do not approach or touch the tree if you see contact with lines.

Consider this…the more powerful the lines the tree is in contact with, the more likely that not just the tree, but the ground around it is energized. Avoid trees in contact with any wires.

This is VERY important. If someone has been injured or rendered unconscious by contact with a utility line or a tree in contact with a utility line, DO NOT APPROACH THEM. DO NOT TOUCH THEM. If the person is energized, you will also be shocked and become a second victim. Always call the emergency authorities to approach someone harmed by electrical lines. This is particularly hard to do. If people are hurt, we immediately run to their aid. In the case of electrical danger, you are more likely to be harmed yourself in the attempt than to rescue the fallen person.
The key objective of our message is ‘avoid the electricity.’ Call the utility companies about lines if you see a tree in contact with wires and especially if lines have fallen or been torn off the poles. Treat every wire as live even if the power is out. Don’t come in contact with the line or anything touching the line.


Source:  Jack Rowe, Extension community forestry specialist and Beau Brodbeck Extension forestry regional agent


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