In recent weeks, at least four persons have died as a result of trying to steal copper from electric transmission lines, according to Appalachian Power spokesperson Phillip Moye.
The latest fatality occurred in Madison in Boone County, Moye said, adding to those who have lost their lives in Logan County as well as Chilicothe, Ohio and Parisburg, Virginia.
Although the prices paid by recycling centers has gone down in recent months, theft is still an issue for the company.
We have as many injures as we do deaths due to copper theft, Moye said. People are even using tree stands, like hunters use, to climb poles, and those who aren't climbing up to the lines are often simply helping and sustain serious burns. One man lost some fingers in Wayne County.
The lines that contain copper are visibly different from the lines that have been installed in the last twenty years, which are aluminum. Moye said.
The copper is usually green, like an old penny, he explained. So it is a prime target for thieves. He went on to explain that while persons looking to steal the copper lines may only cut those wire without power running through it, often those wires will come in contact with the live transmission lines.
Ground wires, which run from the ground and up the poles themselves, are also made of copper and so are being stolen. That theft is not only dangerous to the thieves, but poses a risk to power customers as well.
Those grounds are crucial to protect our facilities as well as homes, Moye said. Without them, power could run back down the transmission lines and into peoples home, potentially sending power into everything that uses power, electrifying it.
Theft has become such a problem West Virginia has two separate crews of four people each that do nothing but replace lines that have been cut down by copper thieves. Moye said rural areas are usually hit more than other places, since there is less chance someone would be seen climbing a pole and cutting the wire.
He said thieves are becoming quite sophisticated, using spikes, such as are used by AEP personnel, and even in some cases, bucket trucks.
We think they are bound to have used bucket trucks for some of this, Moye said. There are no marks on the poles, no other way they could have gotten up to the copper wires.
To report suspicious activity involving power lines, AEP has set up a toll-free number 1-866-747-5845.