Energy Adviser: Danger lurks from above and below

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Before you do the digging, have your fingers do the dialing. Homeowners who start digging on their property may discover the unfortunate hidden "treasure" of power lines, sewer pipes and water lines. Dialing 811 or 800-424-5555, the Call Before You Dig line, two working days before digging prevents injury, liability, and potential fines and expensive repair charges.

"No matter if you're just planting a post for a mailbox, it's safer to know where all your utilities crisscross your property," said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities. To show where your utility lines are, workers use color-coded, water-soluble paint on lawns, sidewalks and driveways to mark utility-, municipal- and company-owned lines. The paint wears away in about two weeks.

The ground isn't the only place to look for electrical lines. Look up. If you're planning on trimming trees using a ladder or a pole trimmer and there are power lines nearby, consider calling the utility to do the work.

That goes for painting your house, too. Take care around the place the power lines enter your home and be wary of falling or potential electrocution if your ladder slips and contacts the power line. To be safe, consider calling the utility and have the power temporarily turned off when painting around the area power lines enter your home. The utility can turn them back on when you're done. It takes planning, so call at least two business days ahead.

Getman advises against using electric mowers, edgers, blowers or similar power tools in wet conditions or rain. Water conducts electricity. The moisture from wet grass or shrubs poses potential danger, because the moisture can leak in around an extension cord plug-in.

That's why you should be extra careful around any outdoor fountains, spas or pools. Learn where the circuit breaker is for any of these water features and educate family members about how to turn off the power in an emergency. Also, check your appliance electrical and extension cords for breaks in the insulation and keep cords and appliances more than five feet away from water.

All outdoor outlets should have ground fault circuit interrupters that immediately turn off electricity to an appliance when it detects a "leak" in an electrical circuit. If necessary, purchase a portable interrupter to use with outdoor tools. You can find them for about $20 to $30.

Carefully landscape near power lines. Before planting new trees, ask the utility for information about trees you can plant safely under power lines and the types of landscaping that works best around electrical equipment in your yard.

Stay clear of any downed line, because you can't tell if it's electrical or not. Do not attempt to move it for any reason, even with gloves on.

"The best thing to do is give us a call," Getman said. Report downed power lines immediately to 360-992-8000 or 360-992-3000, or call 911. Keep everyone away from the line until help arrives.

Make sure your children know downed lines are dangerous. Also caution them to never climb substation fences, green transformer boxes or trees with power lines close by. Substations have dangerous high-voltage equipment. If a Frisbee or ball accidentally flies into a substation, it's not gone forever. Just call Clark Public Utilities at 360-992-3000 and request that an employee retrieve it for you. Someone from the utility will be happy to help you play it safe.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.