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Mike, thank you for your articles on your website about the dangers of an open neutral.
www.MikeHolt.com and search for "open neutral".
Comment: I asked Sky to tell us what happened, so hear is the "rest of
Everything worked fine and there were no problems with the electricity, appliances or electronics. We had surge protectors on the larger electronics- TV, VCR, Nintendo, Sony Playstation, computers, scanner, printers, and a costly battery backup system and very good surge protector on the main business computer.
January 2002, Extremely High Electric
Bill $500 +/-
I tried to explain the circumstances-
no one living there, something was wrong, etc- my concerns were dismissed, I misread the
meter, no payment plan available, please pay the bill by the specified date or the electricity
would be turned off...... I paid the bill.
The next weekend I found that the cordless phone wasn't working and replaced it with a Wal-Mart Panasonic model the next weekend.
*Note: No one was living in the house at the time and electricity was only being used for the well and freezer. My mother's health, which at the time was aged 87, was not good and I was living in Georgetown near the nursing home she was in. I went to Cherokee every weekend for a few hours to check on the place and livestock.
[Don't remember when - between the former and next incident] - there was an electrical 'event' during which the new cordless phone that I had purchased from Wal-Mart quit working and I purchased a new cordless phone from our local phone company (Central Texas Telephone Company- CTTC).
February or March 2003
I called the fire department that responded
and determined the cause of the problem was an electrical problem with the TV and they
removed it from the house for me.
The refrigerator kind of worked- we had a repairman out to fix it several times but it never worked consistently again no matter what he did or replaced on it. We replaced the refrigerator after a couple of months and several service trips and parts replacements by the repairman.
I contacted the electric co-op about the guard light and mentioned all of the other appliances and electrical damage. The person I spoke with was surprised that the light had burned out but mentioned that it would be checked into when they came out to replace the guard light.
My husband contacted electric co-op about a damage claim and was given a card of who with electric co-op handles those things. He gave me the card with the man's name on it. I was working on a complete listing of what was damaged and had to be replaced, and what had been replaced already.
If I had known more about electricity
and over voltage and it's symptoms at the time I would have immediately suspected what
the problem was and would have realized that it was possibly a very dangerous malfunction
that needed to be checking into ASAP.
My mother had passed away in February 2002 so we were living back at the ranch and the electricity was deemed necessary so again I paid the bill.
During a lag in lightbulb activity-
She had been sleeping and didn't want to go but I told her that she absolutely had to go with us because there was something wrong with the lights and I could smell something that smelled like wires burning again. It was misty outside at this time but no thunder or lightning. She got up, wanted to change out of her pj's but I told her we needed to get on to town and call the Fire Department. We drove to town and called the fire department- the time now was around 10:30 - 11:00 pm.
The fire dep't came out and saw the dim and bright lights and was looking at the breaker box in the house trying to determine the cause. They couldn't find a problem but the light in the hallway across from the breaker box was very bright and then went out. I retrieved another lightbulb and they attempted to replace the bulb but on 'electrical' contact the new lightbulb exploded. The children and I went outside.
The fire department suggested that they call an electrician in to look into the problem. Industrial Electric was called and came out and checked everything over. He traced the problem to 'beyond' my meter (outside on a pole) and the electric co-op was called to check further.
The repairman climbed the meter pole (w/spikes and belt) to look for a problem there- everything was ok there.
Then we went out in the pasture to where the transformer was. The bucket truck was brought around to where the transformer was (is) and he went up to look at the transformer. He determined that the transformer was causing the trouble- a negative something or other and set about performing repairs to it.
After repairs, as he stepped down to
the ground, he said, "Well, that's a temporary fix".
He came out the next day and determined that the some of the outlets on the 'very good' surge protector had been burned out and were non-functioning. He found a dead short in the dishwasher line and checked the other outlets and wiring. He told us to leave one of the breakers turned off (that runs the dishwasher line) - which we did until he could have his repair crew come out and replace the wire.
The repair crew came out a few weeks later and replaced the 220 wire to the dishwasher and the dishwasher still didn't work. I continued washing the dishes by hand as I was still replacing electronics and appliances that had burned out from the previous incident and determined that I would replace the dishwasher when I could.
I got up and called out to my son whose bed was also in my room as he was afraid to sleep by himself.
The smoke was so thick, and disorienting
as well, that I couldn't see anything and I prayed as I called out to him that he would
answer me. Normally, very hard to awaken, he answered me immediately and I told him to
get out of the house, it was on fire.
Then I called out to my daughter- again
praying that she would answer me, and she answered me immediately. I told her that the
house was on fire and to get out.
I found my way to the door that goes outside from my room and crawled over a desk and bed to get to the door instead of going around the stuff - I kept thinking that if I don't get out I'm going to pass out from breathing the smoke (I must have been in a some kind of controlled panic state). I tried to turn on lights as I went out of the house as there were several light switches at the doorway but no lights came on. I don't remember getting off the back porch and going around to the side of the house but that's where I met my daughter and looked her over to make sure she was alright.
Then my son was there with us. I had
thought he was already out of the house when I went out but he said that he had only found
his way to the door and had gotten out because he saw the light that I had turned on in
the doorway but that it was very dim.
The fires were small and looked manageable.
I had told my son to turn the electricity off at the pole which he did, but then told
him to turn the main breaker for the well (center breaker) back on and went around the
side of the house to get the water hose.
We kept hoping that a passing vehicle would go by that we could ask to call the fire department but being at such an early morning hour and such a rural location, no vehicles passed by.
Finally, I decided that I needed to
try to get to the phone or the keys. The phone was in the office but I couldn't remember
if I had left the keys in the office or in the kitchen.
I knew with the fire in the next room and me not holding the water hose on it that my time was limited and I needed to get to the phone and get back out. I felt my way across the room and pushed the door closed so that the smoke would not continue to come in at least while I was in there.
I went to where the phone was and to where my keys would have been if they were in there. I found the phone but not the keys so I went back out the window and tried to call 911. The phone didn't work. My son reminded me that I had asked him to turn the breakers (on the outside pole) off to the house and asked me if I wanted him to turn them back on so the phone would work. I told him yes but the phone still didn't work and I then told him told him to turn the breaker back off.
I again began spraying the fire on the entertainment center but by this time it had progressed to the upper level and a level below where it had been on the entertainment center. Shortly after this it went all the way to the ceiling which consisted of 3/8" sheetrock over 50 year old yellow pine in the original part of the house which caught fire quickly. At this point there was nothing I could do to stop the fire and knew it would spread through the ceiling, via the fiberglass insulation and dry old yellow pine rapidly and I withdrew to a safe distance with the children.
We stood in the road and called for help (knowing no one would hear us) and called out to the cats repeatedly. One by one the cats joined us in the ditch like weary soldiers returning from battle, grateful to find a family member waiting for them. All but my son's cat, Java, the Prairie Dog (P-Dog) and three little kittens in my office closet. We feared that Java was lost in the fire and knew that the P-Dog probably wouldn't be able to find his way out and the kittens weren't old enough to walk.
A passing vehicle came down the road and stopped to ask if everyone was out. I told them yes, we were all out, but would they call the fire department when they got to town. At this time the front part of the house was engulfed in flames.
After another 20 minutes or so we heard the sirens and knew that the Cherokee Volunteer Fire Department was on the way.
Our local Cherokee fire department units arrived first and then units from San Saba and San Saba EMS (that I volunteer with) arrived. Most of the house was fully engulfed at this point.
The fire/arson investigator determined the cause of the fire as electrical due to beading on the wiring. I did not have homeowners insurance due to the high cost or rural insurance. I thought also, since I had gone to great lengths and expense to ensure the wiring in my home was safe and in good condition that our odds of having an electrical fire were very low.
Since the Fire:
I've moved a smallish water trough up behind the yard fence and had a water hydrant line closed off where it ran onto the house so I can fill up the water trough for the remaining 2 horses and 9 goats.
I've filled this trough up 4 times now since the fire and the new meter- installed a few days after the fire, which started out on zero is now on 42. It takes 20 minutes to completely fill the trough with the water faucet all the way on. The first three times I filled the trough the numbers on the trough were moving quickly enough that their movement was visible. Having nothing to compare it to- I had no idea if it were normal electricity usage or not.
On Saturday, April 3, 2004 I again filled the trough. The meter still read 42 and I keep all of the breakers turned off (one to the well and one to the storage shed) except when I am filling the water trough.
Again it took 20 minutes to fill the water trough and the meter still read 42 when it was full and I turned the breaker back off.
I don't know if the transformer has been repaired, replaced or was just functioning properly on that day.
I have not contacted the electric company to determine whether we might be covered under any type of insurance they may have- or 'if' they will even acknowledge that the transformer played a part in the fire.
Three weeks ago another newer home in Cherokee began to smolder. Cause of the fire was determined to be bad wiring. Up to that point, the home had not had any trouble. I suspect that it is the next in line on the transformer on my place but the Fire Dep't. is positive that the transformer had nothing to do with it.
Cherokee is a rather small rural community- around 350 people, maybe (just guessing) around 150 homes. Our structure fire count due to electrical reasons is (est.) around 20 homes in the past 5 years.
The state fire marshal has suggested that I contact the Public Utilities Commission - or something like that.
I don't know if I will or not. I checked out their website and they seem to indicate that I might have to testify to prove what I am saying and I cannot do that as I am not an electrician- AND that I might want to have an attorney represent me. I am not in any position to obtain an attorney since my business burned to the ground as well as my home.
Seems like 'they' would be the ones who need to check things out and prove whatever 'they' find for the benefit of other customers that are receiving power from this transformer.
Sky W Cockrum
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