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Lights out in Westlock

A contractor putting up Christmas lights on behalf of the Town of Westlock caused a power outage around noon on Wednesday that affected 2,900 customers in the area, according to FortisAlberta.
This broken power line was the reason Westlock was plunged into darkness last Wednesday.
This broken power line was the reason Westlock was plunged into darkness last Wednesday.

A contractor putting up Christmas lights on behalf of the Town of Westlock caused a power outage around noon on Wednesday that affected 2,900 customers in the area, according to FortisAlberta.

Jennifer MacGowan, a spokesperson for the company, said the contractor’s vehicle had a lift that was raised and came into contact with the line, which crossed Highway 18 at 104 St.

“I know they were acting on behalf of the town to hang Christmas lights,” she said.

The power line itself snapped, and also snapped the top off a power pole on the south side of the highway. While this might have resulted in the town being liable for the cost of replacing the line and the pole, MacGowan said in this case FortisAlberta would bear the cost, since the pole was due to be upgraded anyway.

“We’re obviously investing in our system by replacing poles, and we decided to invest in that pole to upgrade it to the new standard,” she said. “We made the decision not to have anyone else bear the cost of that.”

Of greater concern is the safety issue raised by this incident. On average, contact is made with one of the company’s lines about once per day, in an area of the province that spans from the Westlock area south to the U.S. border. In the past year, there have been three fatalities associated with FortisAlberta’s lines.

In Wednesday’s incident, the Westlock Fire Department was called because of the downed power line, but fortunately there were no injuries.

“This person was lucky enough not to get injured in this situation, but it could have gone the other way as well,” MacGowan said.

Simple precautions should be used any time anyone is working around power lines, she added, and the company’s rule of thumb is “Seven metres safe.” This means that anyone working near lines, whether above ground or underground, should get no closer than seven metres.

“Our message from a safety point of view is always making sure you’re looking up, looking down, and looking at all your surroundings when you’re around power poles to make sure you don’t hit them,” MacGowan said.

Representatives of the Town of Westlock could not be reached for comment.