Overnight mist blamed for utility pole fires
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The skies are clearing in Austin, but the damage is already done.
About 3,000 Austin Energy customers lost electrical service Thursday night and early Friday, and while there were no storms or high winds, the utility company says the weather was to blame.
"We've had a record number of pole fires and it's created by the fact that there has not been any rain for a long, long time," Ed Clark, Austin Energy spokesperson, said.
Not because the poles are dry, but due to dust and dirt that collects on insulators and other equipment.
"We have a 140,000 power poles, so the system has to be cleaned,” Clark said.
Add a little mist and drizzle and instead of running off, the water sticks and can create a short circuit.
"Then you have power running from the power line to the pole and it causes a fire,” Clark said. “It is at the top, it's not like the whole pole is on fire. And it doesn't shoot flames out or create conditions that might cause other fires."
Since power lines are at the top, crews can simply cut off the burned part and put new lumber in place, but repairs were needed on as many as a hundred poles scattered around the city.
"If you have an extended drought and then you have a mist, any electric system would be subject to this type of difficulty," Clark said. "If it rained hard in this town, this problem would go away."
More than a dozen repair crews worked through the night and early morning.
Austin Energy reports that all customers now have their power restored.