Warning over dangers posed by copper thefts

FOUR homes suffered fires and hundreds more were left without power yesterday after metal thieves stole copper earth wire from an electricity substation in Inverclyde.

Repairs are carried out at the electricity substation at Burns Square, Greenock. Picture: John McGowan

One family was forced to flee their property in Greenock when it was engulfed in smoke after a power surge in their electricity box. Almost 300 homes in the area were left without electricity after the incident in the early hours of the morning.

Police Scotland warned that metal theft could lead to “extremely dangerous” consequences, and appealed for witnesses to come forward.

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Emergency services were alerted at 4am when four fires were reported in the electrical boxes of homes in Greenock.

One household, including two young children, had to escape their Devon Road home. A 28-year-old man was treated for smoke inhalation. The other fires at properties in Burns Road and Cambridge Road were minor, with no injuries.

The fires were sparked by a power surge from the cutting of cables in a substation in Burns Square in the town. The thieves took three metres of copper wire, said to be worth about £40.

ScottishPower was working to restore electricity but said engineers had to visit every home affected to make sure there was no damage, or further problems could be caused when the power was turned back on. A spokesman said: “We’re also working with the council to set up somewhere residents can go in the meantime to get something hot to eat or drink as it’s a cold day. The cable that was stolen was only three metres and that’s not worth more than a double-figure sum.

“They were were lucky because there’s an 11,000-volt cable in the substation and if they had tried to cut that they would’ve been electrocuted. It’s caused an incredible amount of trouble and they’re lucky to be alive.”

Police Scotland said the family forced to flee their house due to a fire had faced a “terrifying” ordeal. Inspector Jennifer Shanks said: “This young family have been extremely lucky that they managed to escape so quickly from their house with two very young children. However, with five weeks to go before Christmas, their house has been extensively damaged after a surge at their electricity box.

“Around 300 houses have been left without electricity on one of the coldest mornings of the year. Some of these households will undoubtedly have very young or old people who are vulnerable to the cold.”

She added: “Around £40 worth of metal being stolen has almost cost a family their lives and left many people without power. I would like to reassure the public that we are carrying out extensive inquiries to trace those responsible for this theft and I would ask anyone who has any information or who was in the Burns Square area of Greenock in the early hours of this morning to get in touch.”

Anyone with information can contact police on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 08000 555 111. ScottishPower can be contacted on its 24-hour response line 08452 727 999.