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Power cord should have a healthy buffer zone

16 August 2009 807 views No Comment

Bountiful toddler Jake Marland was shocked and hospitalized in June when a branch from a neighbor’s tree crashed into a power line causing it to hit a swing set in a backyard where he was playing.

The next day, crews from Bountiful Light and Power removed the 50-foot elm tree.

“That [tree] was monstrous,” said Light and Power director Allen Johnson.

The elm that dropped its limb near Marland had been trimmed a number of times over the years, Johnson said. After the accident, power company employees asked the tree’s owner gave permission for the power company to remove the tree, Johnson said.

When a tree is dangerously close to power lines, crews will investigate, Johnson said. If the tree or its branches have caused a power outage, they will remove it. If it threatens a power outage, crews will ask the owner if they can trim it.

“If there is risk, most people will let you clear the power line,” Johnson said.

The trimming service is free.

“The last thing we want to do is have someone trimming a tree and get hurt,” Johnson said. “If you have a concern give us a call.”

Tree branches that down power lines usually only cause an outage. Occasionally, a car or home will be damaged. People being hit and injured is apparently rare.

“That’s the first time I’ve run into it,” Johnson said. “That’s once too many.”

Johnson and his crew, three light and power employees and four contract employees, spend
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the week trimming overgrown trees near power poles.

Many of them are cottonwoods and poplar trees that grow fast and usually end up towering sometimes twice as high as the 30- to 40-foot-tall power lines.

During summer storms with heavy winds, or winter storms with heavy ice and snow, trees can sag and break. A June 30 wind storm caused the branch to break near Marland.

“Trees themselves will eventually cause problems,” Johnson said. “Weather can frustrate this.”

Bountiful police Lt. Randy Pickett, who is familiar with Jake Marland’s case, agreed that it is rare for people to be injured by fallen power lines, but he didn’t have statistics to show how often it occurs. Marland was badly burned by the current and taken to a hospital in critical condition.

“The only suggestions the police could give to avoid the same type of problem is to have parents watch where they place toys in their yard and not place toys of any kind under power lines,” Pickett said. “Also, avoid downed lines of any kind.”

Johnson said trees should be planted no closer than 10 feet to power lines. He also suggested homeowners plant small trees. A 10-foot maple tree takes years to grow. But a poplar, “It’s going to grow right back behind you as you walk out the door.”

Rocky Mountain Power also suggests parents talk to their children about staying safe around power poles.

“Electricity serves an essential purpose, but ignoring safety rules around power lines and other electrical equipment can result in serious injury or even death,” wrote Mike Felice, Rocky Mountain Power safety director. “Children and teenagers should be reminded to stay safe by keeping away from power lines, electrical substations, transmission towers and other electrical facilities when outside playing. These cautions apply to adults as well.”

Jake Marland’s family declined a recent request to comment on his condition. In July, his parents reported he was on the mend.

By Jason Bergreen

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