Downed and Dangerous: Power Line Safety

June 24, 2024

High winds, lightning, falling trees and vehicle accidents can cause significant damage to the electrical distribution system, downing power lines and causing outages. 

You cannot see, hear or smell electricity, which makes it extremely dangerous. Unlike the movies, power lines do not have to be arcing or sparking to be live. Downed power lines can be live and lethal, even though they appear de-energized. 

What should you do if you see a downed power line?

  • ALWAYS assume it is energized. 
  • Keep yourself and others away! The wires and/or objects touching or near the power line can also be energized. 
  • Do not try to rescue someone who contacts a downed power line. Doing so puts you at risk of becoming a victim.
  • Don’t drive over a downed power line or through water that is touching a power line. 
  • NEVER use any object to move a downed wire. 
  • ALWAYS call to report a downed power line. You can call 911, especially in emergency situations, or Stearns Electric at (800) 962-0655. 

What happens when an energized power line falls?
When a live wire touches the ground, electricity ripples out through the ground, like when a rock hits water. The minimum safe distance from a downed power line is 35 feet, but we recommend staying at least 50 feet away until help arrives. 

Did you know?

  • Electricity can travel through the ground, fences, hoses, tree limbs and playscapes. A live wire, either on the ground or in trees, can harm you, even if you don’t directly touch the power line.
  • Rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes will not protect you from electrocution involving a downed power line. Electricity in our power lines can be 7,200 volts or higher. 
  • Even if the line is de-energized when you find it, it could become energized during power restoration efforts. 

Vehicle Accidents
Know what to do if you find yourself in an accident involving high voltage electrical equipment, such as a power line, green transformer box or other potentially energized equipment:

  • Stay IN your vehicle (do NOT leave) and warn others to stay away. 
  • Call 911 for help. 
  • Wait until a professional from Stearns Electric, or other electric utility provider, tells you it is safe to leave your vehicle.

The ONLY exception to this is if your vehicle is on fire. In the rare case of a fire:

  • Jump clear of the vehicle with your feet together and without touching the car and the ground at the same time. 
  • Once you are safely outside of the vehicle, shuffle at least 200 yards away with your feet together. 
  • Do not go back to the vehicle to retrieve any items until you are told it is safe to do so by a professional. 

If you witness a vehicle collision with a power pole, do not approach the accident. By trying to help, you may put your own life at risk. The best thing to do is contact emergency responders and stay far away from the accident.