SaskPower continues to uncover Regina homes at risk of electrical fires

As SaskPower continues to inspect power meter boxes in Regina, it's finding more and more cases where a fire risk is present. With that, costs are mounting.

Crown says issue unrelated to smart meter replacement

About 600 properties have been inspected to date. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

As SaskPower continues to inspect power meter boxes in Regina, it's finding more and more cases where a fire risk is present.

About 600 properties have been inspected to date, with 30 SaskPower staff on the task.

"We're going to keep going until we're satisfied," said SaskPower health and safety director Kevin Schwing.

A power meter box separating from the wall of a home in Regina. SaskPower says it's still unclear who will be footing the bill for repairs to equipment causing a fire hazard. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

Five fires have broken out so far. In 30 cases, wiring under stress has burned out and caused a power outage. In up to 80 cases, power equipment was deemed to be showing "risks," SaskPower spokesperson Jonathan Tremblay said.

SaskPower says hot, dry weather is causing the ground to sink and in turn pulling wiring out of the boxes.

Kevin Schwing, SaskPower director of health and safety, points at a crack opening between the soil and the wall of a home in Regina. This, he says, is a warning sign that the home could be at risk. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

The size of the box is what determines the level of risk, said Schwing, noting that the smaller the box is, the greater the risk. In the smaller boxes, there is less slack in the wiring that is being tugged on by sinking ground, he said.

However, there is no easy way for homeowners to determine the size of the box themselves, he said.

In the interest of a long-term remedy, an investigation is underway, Schwing said, which should wrap up in a couple of weeks.

"We're talking to other utilities, seeing what other people have done," he said. "We'll look at everything from standards to insulation to expansion joints — there's all kinds of things."

Boxes sitting on a tilt, even slightly, like this one, are a risk, according to SaskPower. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

Again, SaskPower reminded people to look for warning signs that their home might be at risk, including: the power box pulling away from the home, the box tilting on the wall, wiring being pulled out of the box, and a gap opening between the foundation of the home and the ground.

Anyone who notices any of these things happening on their property is being urged to notify SaskPower.

Smart meters unrelated

The current issue has nothing to do with the previous failure of "smart meters," which were causing unexpected fires in 2014.

However, all the new meters that replaced the faulty smart meters "should have more wire that the ground can pull down," according to Tremblay.

That would mean the homes that had smart meter replacements should be safe, but that only represents about 20 per cent of customers, he said.

Costs mounting

Who will be footing the bill for the work being done to ensure the boxes are safe remains unclear.

The Crown corporation is wrestling internally with exactly who is responsible for the costs, but says it will make a determination before the week is out. The box and the conduits are owned by the customer. The wiring and the meter itself are owned by SaskPower.

Where the problem originates in each case is factoring into considerations.

Depending on the extent of the damage, a repair could cost $1,000 to $2,000, SaskPower says.