Guest commentary: Is 5G a potential fire hazard?
Fire! This word strikes fear in Colorado. Our state is facing its worst fire season ever. This summer may be as dangerous as any we have faced, and we are all in a hypervigilant state to prevent fires. Compounding the threat is the unprecedented proliferation of 5G cell towers.
According to Tony P. Simmons, P. E., an electrical engineer who is a subject matter expert on electrical safety in California and Nevada, “Many people are not aware that electrical equipment, including all cell towers and 5G small cell sites, pose a fire threat that must be mitigated by a recognized electrical fire safety expert. Every electrical device is going to fail at some point. The goal is to ensure that failures do not imperil life, health and property.”
Three fires in California have been started either in part or in whole by telecommunications equipment failures: Silverado, Woolsey and Malibu Canyon.
The cause of the 2020 Silverado Fire appears to be shared responsibility between Southern California Edison (SCE) and telecom giant T-Mobile. SCE admits the fire started at the location of one of its utility poles but has pointed its finger at T-Mobile for the failure of a telecommunications lashing wire on an SCE utility pole as the suspected cause.
In 2018 a lashing wire belonging to an unknown carrier appears to have been the cause of at least one of two ignition points for the Woolsey Fire, which destroyed over 400 homes in Malibu and caused residents to flee into the ocean because the three routes of exit out of the city were blocked by traffic and fire. The carrier, at this point, is unknown because the Woolsey Fire remains under criminal investigation. Over $6 billion in damages was inflicted before the fire was finally extinguished. SCE and the telecom that owned the lashing wire have shared responsibility for the Woolsey inferno.
The 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire was caused by the failure of an SCE utility pole that was overloaded with telecom equipment owned by AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint (now T-Mobile). These four and NextG, now owned by telecom infrastructure builder Crown Castle International, Inc. was accused of misleading investigators, and eventually settled with the California Public Utilities Commission for over $60 million.
Tom Lankering and Kathleen Fors are writing a monthly series on 5G for The Aspen Times; the next installment on July 11.Their previous installments can be found here:
Cell tower fires are infrequent but devastating when they do occur. Susan Foster, writer and honorary firefighter with the San Diego Fire Department who now lives in Colorado, told us in an interview that “electrical fires cannot be fought through conventional means until the power has been cut. Firefighters or anyone else trying to put water on an energized cell tower fire will be electrocuted.
“Imagine this scenario,” Foster explains, “a cell tower catches on fire with winds gusting at 50 miles an hour. This fire is going to spread until the utility cuts the power and that can take between 10 minutes and one hour.” Foster cautions cities to establish residential setbacks from all wireless installations so that people have time to escape in the event of a fire.
To regulate the design of cell sites to protect the public from electrical hazards, Cellular installations must be viewed for what they are: electrical installations.
“Frankly, the promise of 5G is hype, and the fire danger of having cell towers close to our homes, schools and places of business can have devastating consequences,” Foster says. “Electric fire safety experts were not involved in the 5G mandate, but telecom executives and attorneys were. They had different priorities. I want my family to be safe. Telecom wants their market share to increase.”
We have witnessed how fast and uncontrollable a fire can spread, not only with the fires we had in Basalt and Glenwood Springs but also in other areas in Colorado. We have no desire for the “promise of 5G” to add to the existing fire risks our state already faces.
The April 2021 recall of 2.5 million hotspots by Verizon due to fire risks and the recent collapse of an AT&T cell tower due to electric arcing on a high school campus in Chula Vista, California, demonstrates that it is irresponsible for local governments to trust the engineering of the telecom companies. The most effective way to protect Colorado from wildfires caused by telecommunication equipment is to regulate the design of a cell site with the same rigor most cities already require from their building officials, but did not realize they had the right to demand of telecoms.
Tom Lankering and Kathleen Fors are local health professionals and members of Colorado for Safe Technology and are writing a monthly series on 5G for The Aspen Times. More information can be found at Environment Health Trust, EHTrust.org; Children’s Health Defense, ChildrensHealthDefense.org; and Colorado for Safe Technology, CO4SafeTech.com.