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Power Restored After Pole Fires

Drought, dirt, wind and mist are prime suspects

By Amy Smith, 3:25PM, Fri. Dec. 28, 2012

Widespread power outages had AE workers performing a different type of pole dance.
Widespread power outages had AE workers performing a different type of pole dance.
photo by Austin Energy

An unusual set of circumstances sparked a record number of fires on about 50 Austin Energy power poles overnight, causing power outages to as many as 7,000 customers.

All power had been restored by noon today, said AE spokesman Ed Clark. He cited the drought, wind activity and "just the perfect amount of mist" as the main contributors to creating a perfect storm of sorts.

During lengthy periods without rain, dirt and dust builds up on small insulators connecting power lines to power poles. Misty conditions during the night caused the gunk to track across the insulators, which provided "a pathway for electricity to move from the power line to the pole" and burn a hole in the top of the pole, according to AE.

Clark said the fires were more akin to smoldering events rather than actual fires. Seventeen crews worked overnight and throughout the morning to repair the damage. The outages started occurring about midnight and peaked during the hours of 3am and 6am, Clark said.

The fires and subsequent outages were scattered in various parts of the city, with larger pockets of outages along Highway 71 West, Burleson Road, and around 32nd Street and I-35.

AE urges all customers to report power outages at 322-9100. The more addresses that get recorded into AE's system, the more quickly the utility can pinpoint the location of the problem and restore power, Clark said.

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