Completion of BC Hydro's smart meter program has coincided with a continued decline in electrical fires in the province, according to a new analysis of records from the B.C. Office of the Fire Commissioner.
Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis has been tracking residential fire statistics since 2010, for his work as adjunct professor of criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley. After successfully pushing for a 2006 law allowing fire departments to find indoor marijuana grow operations by their electrical usage, Garis has continued to assess the effects of BC Hydro's smart grid program on preventing fires.
Adding another year of fire statistics, from June 2012 to June 2013, shows a continued decline in electrical fires, including those related to illegal electrical bypasses and hot grow lamps found to be connected with illegal marijuana growing.
Garis noted that the data show electrical fires of all sorts account for only a small part of all structure fires in B.C. Out of 1,801 total residential fires in the latest year available, 150 were found to be caused by electrical discharge. That's a 12.3 per cent decline since 2011, when the smart meter program began.
The reports show that over three years, only one fire originated on an exterior wall, ignited by an electrical panel board. That was in 2011, before smart meter installation began. There have been no fires attributed to the meter program, with 1.8 million wireless meters installed.
Fires caused by illegal meter bypasses dropped from eight in 2011 to six in 2012 to only three in 2013. BC Hydro has reported that installers located and removed illegal bypasses around the province as part of the smart meter program, and also replaced 1,200 meter bases found to be faulty.
Garis said the results clearly show that people should not worry about their electrical meters, and pay attention to by far the largest sources of house fires: cooking and smoking.
The statistics show that cooking-related fires are on the increase, even as total residential fires have declined in B.C. Of 1,998 total fires reported in 2011, 575 were ignited by cooking equipment. In 2013, total fires declined to 1,801 but the number of cooking fires rose to 621.
Fires caused by smoking declined by 11 per cent for 2013, but there were still 302 fires ignited by smoking materials.
Garis said the statistic of most concern is that 79 per cent of people who died in fires, whatever the source, were in a home without a working smoke detector.