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Fire caused by the attempted theft of copper power cables

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Copper wire

Copper wire

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Resulting Damage

Resulting Damage

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Resulting damage

Resulting Damage

How this fire happened

The attempted theft of copper power cables caused the ignition of gas caused by damage to a flexible gas pipe.

This was due to a lost neutral power cable which dramatically increased the voltage from 230v to 400v.

The  3 phase, neutral power cable supplying a row of 6 cottages was cut causing it to wrap around a live cable resulting in the earth becoming live at the surface cut-out.

The electric supply in the cottages was bonded to the gas barrel at the point of intake.

The flexible gas pipe provided a weak point that became damaged by the current causing a gas leak.

The fires were caused by ignition of gas escaping from the damaged flexible pipes.

All fixtures connected to the bonding would become live at this point, effectively providing a *Faraday Cage inside the property.

There would have been a severe risk of electric shock to anyone outside the premises in contact with 'true earth' should they touch something connected to the main earthing terminal such as an external water tap.

The fire in the gas supply pipe at one property was discovered early and the Fire Service called. On arrival the fire crews reported a further fire in a second property where one male person was rescued from the first floor window. The block of terraced cottages was then evacuated.

A third property suffered an 'explosion' when escaped gas ignited. Shortly after a fourth house suffered a second 'explosion'. On inspection, the two remaining properties had a soot marks and flash burns but no serious fire damage.

The explosions caused severe damage to the terrace which later had to be demolished. A Fire Fighter suffered a small cut in the blast, thankfully, no one was seriously injured.


Extract from a parliamentary debate on 6 September 2011      

"The reality is that on a daily basis thefts are taking place against our national energy infrastructure across the UK.

These are malicious and leave sites unsafe as well as causing disruption to the public and the economy.

These thefts have led to 750 cases of loss of supply to at least 25,000-plus homes.

Of these there were over 2,500 cases involving damage to customer's TVs, computers and boilers as a result of the outages.

In addition there have been 23 environmental incidents and at least 60 fires.

A recent theft in Yorkshire cost local residents and insurers over £500,000 in broken electrical equipment and boilers as a result of a theft of just £40 of copper when customers' voltage rose from 240V to a dangerous 430V."


* Faraday Cage - A container made of a conductor, such as wire mesh or metal plates, shielding what it encloses from external electric fields.    

Since the conductor is an equipotential, there are no potential differences inside the container.The metal hull of an aircraft acts as a faraday cage, protecting its occupants from lightning.

Faraday cages are used to protect electronic equipment from such electrical interference as electromagnetic interference. Also called Faraday shield.

Safety message

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  • Report any unusual fluctuation in power supply to your supplier

  • Report any smell of burning to the Fire & Rescue Service on 999 

  • Report any smell of escaped gas to National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999

  • Only allow electrical work to be carried out by a qualified Electrician. Electrical Safety Safety First have a list of registered Electricians

  • Report people trespassing in electrical installations such as sub stations or railway lines to the Police

  • Watch out for people acting suspiciously

  • Join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme in your area

  • Canvas your MP for the introduction of controls in the scrap metal industry

Safety Message Don't
  • Adjust gas or electricity installations unless you are qualified to do so
  • Ignore any abnormal fluctuation in voltage
  • Use any electrical equipment and avoid naked flames if you suspect a gas leak

Further information

 UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA)

UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA)

The UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA)is a trade association providing a forum for the exchange of information and best practice relating to issues arising from electricity theft. Today, the UKRPA comprises 17 member companies from across the electricity and gas supply and distribution chain.

The UKRPA and its members are committed to improving the detection, investigation and prevention of illegal electricity and gas abstraction. Tampering with electricity and gas supply is extremely dangerous, with the potential to cause fire, explosion, electrocution and death. Those tampering with an energy supply not only endanger themselves, but also the safety of neighbours, the general public, employees of energy supply companies and the emergency services called into deal with situations arising from theft.

Over recent years, the UKRPA has been committed to engaging with industry stakeholders to improve awareness of the issues associated with the illegal abstraction of gas and electricity. This activity has included:

  • Responding to the energy regulator Ofgem’s consultations on tackling gas and electricity theft to create an improved theft arrangement across the energy industry;
  • Working with Liverpool Housing Trust to develop a closer working protocol between social landlords and energy suppliers, improving lines of communication and response times for dealing with incidents of theft;
  • Contributing to the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) cannabis problem profile, to assess the trends and volumes of cannabis cultivations throughout the UK.

The UKRPA has a target to increase its level of collaborative work across emergency services, Home Office and regulators, to form an effective intelligence network ensuring that the risks to public safety and emergency services are minimised. We have formed a powerful network of suppliers, networks, metering organisations, social landlord and contacts within police and fire services to help improve joined up thinking and action.

Ofgem have estimated that around one-third of the illegally abstracted electricity in the UK can be attributed to cannabis cultivations. It is in the best interests of energy suppliers to work closely with regional and national fire services via the UKRPA, to train front line staff to be able to identify potential cannabis cultivations and to communicate the specific and unique associated dangers. Criminals cultivating cannabis often take extreme steps to protect their assets, which can involve setting up booby traps – a significant danger to emergency service personnel.

The UKRPA runs an anonymous 24/7 tip-off service via its website, where members of the public are encouraged to provide information regarding suspected electricity and gas theft. These reports are passed onto the relevant energy supplier for investigation and resolution. 



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Cannabis Factory Booby Trap
Cannabis Factory Booby Trap

Cannabis Factory Booby Trap

This information was provided through the NILO network and added here 27 May 2015.

On Wednesday 13 May 2015 an electrical booby trap was encountered at a small cannabis grow site in South Bristol. 

The booby trap (pictured below) consisted of a short length of electrical flex plugged into a socket. The wires of the flex had been stripped and spread out. The intention was for anyone touching the bare wires to receive an electric shock.

According to engineer who attended, this would have proved fatal if touched. 

Although it is not common to find booby traps, they still pose a significant threat to responders attending premises believed to be converted into cannabis factories so it is important to remain vigilant. 



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Acknowledgement

This case study was contributed by:
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service website

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