Thieves in white camouflage have been stealing copper wire from Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) infrastructure damaged in the Cold Springs Fire to sell for scrap, endangering themselves and others.
The PUD reported that some of the damaged infrastructure, which will be rebuilt in 2021, hasn’t been removed yet. PUD crews spent 23 hours of overtime in mid-December removing as much of the damaged infrastructure from private property as could be done safely to steer thieves away. Thieves have even resorted to knocking over good poles, rather than taking what’s already on the ground, the PUD said.
Disrupting the powerlines not only poses a risk from falling poles and other pieces of equipment, but it can also affect the line miles down the road, the PUD said. By disturbing the lines and poles, the damaged lines could sag and drop on active distribution lines, causing the de-energized lines to become re-energized again, injuring anyone who comes in contact with those lines and causing an outage, the PUD said.
“Thieves are truly risking their own lives to make a few dollars on scrap metal. Most scrap facilities do not take utility scrap anyway, as they assume it is stolen,” the PUD said.
When possible, the PUD sells materials as scrap to offset the cost of construction projects.
The PUD is working with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office to catch the thieves. They ask that anyone who sees suspicious activity on their own property or in powerline rights-of-way immediately call 911 so law enforcement can be notified.