Link between electrical meter, Warren house fire probed
By Thatcher MoaTS
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 24,2012
MONTPELIER — Insurance investigators are trying to determine whether a fire that torched a Warren home was sparked by Green Mountain Power’s attempt to install a smart meter at the house.
The local fire chief has tentatively traced the fire to the area where an electric meter had been.
The house at 1287 Brook Road caught fire July 15, and firefighters from the Warren Volunteer Fire Department responded at about 6 p.m., according to Warren Fire Chief Peter DeFreest.
The building, a second home owned by Pennsylvania resident Arthur Berkowitz, was engulfed in flames when DeFreest arrived. About 45 firefighters from Warren, Waitsfield and Moretown spent about five hours putting out the blaze, said DeFreest. The fire chief said the house will likely be a total loss.
“I think they’ll wind up tearing it down,” DeFreest said. “The whole building is basically standing, but the main house was just a shell left.”
No one was at the house when it caught fire.
DeFreest has determined that the fire was electrical, and he said he believes it originated in the area of the electric meter, though he also cautioned that the fire is still being investigated.
Green Mountain Power is installing wireless digital smart meters around the state in the hopes that it will allow the utility and consumers to manage the electrical grid more effectively.
The deployment of smart meters has been controversial as some Vermonters worry about the privacy of information related to their electrical usage as well as the health effects of the wireless devices.
Green Mountain Power workers removed the old analog meter at Berkowitz’s house July 13 as they prepared to install a smart meter, said Green Mountain Power spokesman Robert Dostis. But they never put a smart meter on, said Dostis.
“When they took the meter out the socket broke,” said Dostis. “They couldn’t put a new meter on, and they couldn’t put the old meter back in, so they did a standard temporary connection.”
Protocol is for the installers to call an electrician, but one couldn’t make it that day, a Friday, so an appointment was scheduled for the following Monday, which was the reason for the temporary connection, said Dostis.
The home burned the day before the electrician was scheduled to come.
Amid the public debate over smart meters, Dostis was eager to make one thing clear: The smart meter never actually went on the house, so it couldn’t have been the cause of the fire.
“The key thing here was that it was not the smart meter, because I know our opponents would love to grab onto that,” said Dostis.
DeFreest also said the smart meter had not been installed yet.
Until there’s a definitive answer on the cause of the fire, the electric utility won’t know whether it needs to change its protocols for installing the meters, said Dostis.
“That’s the one question now: Is there something we did? And does there need to be a change in protocol? We can’t answer that until we know what actually caused the fire,” said Dostis.