Power jolt wreaks havoc on Silt home | AspenTimes.com

Power jolt wreaks havoc on Silt home

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SILT ” Nanci Limbach isn’t sure who’s to blame for a passing energy industry truck snagging a power line and sending 69,000 volts of electricity into her house southwest of Silt.

“I don’t know whose (fault) it is but by jove they’ve caused a lot of problems,” she said.

More than two weeks later, Limbach and her husband, Paul still only are beginning to deal with the damage caused by the May 18 incident.

The jolt blew out appliances such as VCR and DVD players and televisions, burned out light sockets, caused flames to shoot out of satellite receivers, knocked out phone service, melted telephones, and even burned holes in walls. Limbach said Qwest discovered a telephone pole had blown out of the ground.

“It’s amazing the force that blew through,” she said.

A damage consultant has recommended that the Limbachs move out of their home for nine months so it can be rewired. But Limbach questions how that work would occur. The 1913 home has plaster and lath walls, so it’s not a mere matter of tearing out drywall and putting it back up.

The home is built from sandstone, which makes it a rarity locally, and the Limbachs have been trying to get it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, she said.

Nanci Limbach also runs a wildlife rehabilitation center behind the home. She said her office at the center suffered only minimal electrical damage. The hard part is how much the incident has distracted Limbach, forcing her to rely more on other volunteers to care for animals.

“There’s time dealing with insurance agencies and getting the phones going and all of that. I guess that’s what’s frustrating to me because the animals are supposed to come first,” she said.

The accident happened a little after 10 a.m. May 18 when an I.E. Miller Services flatbed truck driven by Patrick Mckenner, 26, of Dickinson, N.D., hit the line while towing a front-end loader. Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said the vehicle hit a distribution line, apparently belonging to Holy Cross Energy, and flipped it onto a 69,000-volt Xcel transmission line.

“When you’ve got two live lines going together, obviously that’s what sent the surge down the line,” he said.

He said the accident also resulted in an hour-long power outage for 2,500 Xcel customers.

Nanci Limbach was in her wildlife center office when the accident happened and melted a surge protector on her computer. She went outside to see if her horses had panicked. Paul Limbach came home and first tried to keep motorists from driving over the power line. Only later did he go into the house, and then come running out again, yelling that it was on fire.

Brit McLin, chief of the Burning Mountains Fire Department, said firefighters didn’t find any flames and were able to vent the smoke from the house.

He said the truck was 15 feet high, over the legal limit. However, a Colorado State Patrol report makes no indication that Mckenner was cited. CSP Capt. Rich Duran said it’s possible the truck had a permit to drive the extra-high vehicle or that power lines were sagging.

Limbach said Holy Cross had visited her property a day earlier to do an energy audit, and some of its workers trimmed some branches. She wonders if that lowered the line.

Holy Cross spokesman Steve Casey said he doubts that work would have caused the line to drop, and he suspects the vehicle height caused the problem.

“We certainly are pretty mindful about keeping our lines at the proper elevation because it certainly doesn’t do any good for us to have people clipping our lines,” he said.

He said Holy Cross has had problems with trucks working for the EnCana energy company hitting lines as high as 18 feet.

EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said he has never heard about incidents involving EnCana and clipped power lines. I.E. Miller, of Eunice, La., is one of EnCana’s contractors and does work in the area of the Limbachs’ home, but Hock wasn’t able to find out Monday whether the truck involved in the accident was working for EnCana at the time. Limbach said she heard it might have been doing work for Bill Barrett Corp. A Barrett official could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.

Limbach said the truck driver said he had driven the road before without incident. However, she said other energy-related traffic has clipped power lines near her home in the past. While those cases didn’t send a jolt of electricity into the house, in one case a panicked horse tore open its chest charging into a fence.

She said vehicles related to natural gas drilling also have gotten into accidents at the dogleg curve where she lives on County Road 346, causing damage to fences and headgates, some of which remains unrepaired. She worries that no one will take the blame for the power surge.

“Then we’re just stuck with it, and then our insurance rates go up,” she said.

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