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Rare series of electrical-pole fires led to power outage

By Sean McIntosh [1]

BELLEVILLE – In his near 30-year career, Belleville Fire [2] Chief Mark MacDonald has never seen anything like it: eight hydro poles catching fire at the same time.

“I’ve never seen eight calls going on at the same time for the exact same issue right across our municipality,” MacDonald said, speaking about the situation when power went out all over the Quinte region Tuesday night.

The outage was caused by eight Belleville hydro poles catching fire at once.

What brought it on? When there’s a long period of time with no rain, salt and dust stick to the insulators on the poles, and over time climb to the top, MacDonald explained. This sends the power directly to the wooden pole, which heats it up and eventually makes the pole catch fire.

The fires led to no direct danger for anyone, MacDonald said.

“The tops were burning, so the poles weren’t being knocked down,” he said. “Traffic at that time of night, of course, is quite a bit less than during daytime, which worked in not involving vehicular traffic.

“It also made it easier for the crews to close the roads and get their big equipment in and make their repairs.”

The eight poles that caught fire in Belleville were spread out across the city, he said. There was one downtown, another in an urban area, and others in various places. The same thing happened to three or four more poles in the surrounding region, he added.

Chris Mace, a representative for Veridian [3], Belleville’s electricity distributor, said the fires led to two different power outages for the city.

The first outage was at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, and resulted in 4,000 customers being without power. The second outage happened minutes later and affected 2,200 more households.

Mace said the power took longer to return in some buildings than in others.

“Some (people) had their power restored within an hour, while the longest waits were three to four hours,” he said.

All poles damaged from the fires were replaced overnight, Mace said.