BC Hydro claims a Mission homeowner is ultimately liable for a fire that originated at the base of a smart meter one day after it was installed.
A report by the Mission fire department said the blaze, which destroyed Trish Regan's house in the 7900-block of Burdock Street and leaped to the roof of a neighbouring home on June 15, originated at an insulating lug in the lower left corner of the meter base. The report says the terminal, which attached the meter base to the home, appeared cracked and "radiated heat to combust the wall at or near the meter base."
The base is the mounting plate for the meter, which measures how much electricity a home consumes during each utility-service billing period. Electricity must pass from the meter through the lugs to connect with the house wiring.
BC Hydro maintains the meter base is part of the house and thus any damage or faulty wiring is the customer's responsibility.
Spokeswoman Cindy Verschoor said the Crown corporation has fixed about 1,000 homes with faulty or damaged wiring before it installed the smart meters, but residents should be ensuring they have electricians check the wiring regularly.
"We are fixing that for the customer free of charge as long as they give us permission," she said. "Those are cases of a fire risk. They are potential accidents waiting to happen.
"We're always [doing work] on good faith that the customer has working, functional equipment to support our infrastructure."
The meter bases function like household electrical sockets and are built to withstand meters being plugged in and pulled out multiple times, Verschoor said.
If a resident is concerned about their meter base, they can call Hydro to come unlock the meter and remove it for about $100, she added.
Verschoor acknowledged the technician in Regan's case did not see the crack when installing the smart meter at her home, but wouldn't speculate as to what caused the damage, saying the issue is still under investigation.
"It's possible there was a pre-existing condition that wasn't evident," Verschoor said.
But Regan argued she had no idea she was responsible for the fire, noting smart meters are locked in place on the base and she has no access to them. Furthermore, Regan said the crack could have been caused by the installer, noting that she wasn't home when he arrived, but her daughter witnessed him trying three or four times to jam the meter onto the base.
"If there's an existing crack they're not supposed to put a meter on it," she said. "I've lived in my house for 20 years and the day after they put in a smart meter, it burns down."
Regan is also increasingly frustrated by the Mission fire department, who initially told her the fire was caused by a crack on the base of the smart meter; it later revised its verdict to "electrical in nature." Her insurance company filed a freedom of information request, which indicated the fire did originate at the base of the smart meter.
The blaze destroyed Regan's home, three vehicles in her driveway, and damaged her neighbour's house.
The smart meter itself was eliminated as the cause of the fire, and BC Hydro maintains it did not see any cracks when the meter was being installed. The utility said out of the 1.5 million smart meters it has installed to date, only 250 residents have complained of faulty meter bases.
- With files from Mike Hager