Energy Adviser: Power line dangers above and below



Look up at the sky. No, it’s not a plane from Portland International Airport. No, it’s not Superman. It’s overhead electrical wiring. Always look skyward before tackling spring or fall tree trimming, gutter cleaning or warm weather house painting.

“When painting or cleaning gutters secure your ladder to prevent it sliding into a power line,” said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities. “Be careful trimming trees and don’t touch overhead lines with long-handled equipment. It could be fatal.”

When working in trees, keep an eye out for power lines. Once in the tree, cables are harder to see. They blend in with the branches. If a tree grows into a power line, don’t attempt to trim it. Go to the utility’s website and fill out the form to have a utility crew do the job.

“We suggest homeowners landscape wisely near power lines,” said Getman. “Before planting new trees, call us about trees that won’t reach power lines. Generally, they should grow no taller than 25 feet.”

Power lines aren’t always up in the air. Some are in the ground. Homeowners playing pirates and digging about on their property may discover hazardous hidden treasures — power, gas, cable and water lines or sewer pipes. By digging unaware when you start an outdoor project such as installing a sprinkler system, you may uncover this hidden booty and disconnect neighbors — or worse harm yourself.

Save yourself problems. Dial the “Call Before You Dig” line at 811 or 800-424-5555 or visit Go online or phone at least two working days before you want to dig and ask for help in locating underground power and other utility lines. The utility and other service providers will inspect your property and mark the incoming lines with five colors: red for an electric power line; blue for a water line; green for sewer lines; yellow for natural gas; and orange for cable or phone lines.

Water and electricity don’t mix. 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 case of an emergency.

Getman advises keeping electrical cords and appliances five feet from water and against using power tools, such as electric mowers, blowers, edgers, in wet conditions.

Outdoor outlets should have ground-fault circuit-interrupters that immediately turn off electricity to an appliance when it detects a “drain” in an electrical circuit. For safety, purchase a portable GFCI to use with outdoor equipment. You can find them for about $20 to $30.

Teach your children about electricity “danger zones.” Tell them to stay clear and at least 30 feet away from a downed line, because no one can tell if it’s live or not. Explain they shouldn’t touch or move one for any reason. Make them aware electricity can “spread” across wet ground or pavement. Report downed power lines immediately to 360-992-8000, 360-992-3000, or 911. Keep everyone away from the live wire until help arrives.

Remind children that green transformer boxes and trees with power lines close by are also high-voltage “danger zones.” Tell them that substations contain harmful high-voltage equipment and climbing substation fences is dangerous. If a glider or other toss toy accidentally flies over a substation fence, it’s only lost temporarily. Call Clark Public Utilities at 360-992-3000 and a Clark employee will be happy to retrieve it.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.