Oklahoma Dry Conditions Sparking More Than Just Grass Fires

Tuesday, February 25th 2014, 7:20 pm
By: News On 6

The dry weather is creating the perfect storm for not just grass fires, but also for power pole fires. It's something that doesn't happen often in Oklahoma, but with dry conditions and dust in the air, a fire can spark.

We've all heard what goes up, must come down. In this case, when dust gets stirred up in the air, sometimes it lands on power lines.

Thousands of cars pass by power lines every day, stirring up dust in the air. That dust, combined with windy conditions and no rain, equal the perfect recipe for disaster.

Steve Baker, PSO Distribution Operations Vice President, said, "It's a real unusual occurrence for us here in Oklahoma, especially on the eastern side of Oklahoma."

Baker said last week PSO responded to about a dozen fires. He said in each case, heavy dust was the trigger that caused the power poles to go up in flames.

"What happens is the dust builds up on this insulator and this insulator keeps the voltage in the conductor, current in the conductor, from going to ground," Baker said.

But if we get a little bit of mist, like we did last week, then that mist moistens the dust on the power lines causing a fire.

"This real light mist causes, not enough to wash the dust off, but just enough to make the water track over the bells of the insulator, so then there's a current path that goes to ground," said Baker.

That current travels to the ground, heating up the wooden pole, which can start a fire. In the 11 years Baker has lived in Oklahoma, he said this is the first time he's seen this happen here.

"Happens on the gulf coast. You've got a lot of salt contamination at different times. Hardly ever happens in eastern Oklahoma," Baker said.

Unfortunately, there's only one thing to fix the problem.

"Just a heavy rain after a dry period would take care of it or even a light rain would have been enough to wash the contamination off the insulators," Baker said.

He said if we go through another extended dry period this could happen again, but he thinks the chances of it actually happening are slim.