Copper thieves causing havoc in region |

Copper thieves causing havoc in region

Thieves targeting the copper in power lines in the Truckee River Canyon have stolen wire, damaged 50 power poles, caused power-outages for about 700 customers and sparked a brush fire near Verdi over the weekend.

Karl Walquist, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Power, said thieves are knocking down poles to get to the valuable copper in the currently unused wire. The thefts, he said, have likely been going on for months.

Over the weekend, however, a thief climbed a pole and dropped the unused cable onto a live wire, causing the outage and brush fire.

While the line that has been stolen wasn’t live, plans to use it as an alternative feed for the Glenshire area have been delayed by the theft, Walquist said.

Besides the delays to those plans, Walquist said there are three main concerns over copper wire theft.

“First we are concerned with safety. The thieves are putting their lives in jeopardy; it can cause harm to other people and property.” Walquist said, “Second is the reliability of service, and third is the cost of replacement.”

Cost not only includes the wire itself, but the poles and hardware as well.

“The cost to replace a pole is $5,000 to $10,000, so replacing all 50 will cost about $250,000,” he said.

Sgt. Frank Koehler with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office said he isn’t surprised officers haven’t found fingerprints or evidence, but is frustrated that there have been no witnesses.

“We have had a line droop down across Interstate 80 and had a semi truck get tangled in it,” Koehler said. “Somebody should have at least seen [the thieves’] car.”

Although the thefts have occurred in sections starting back in early August, Koehler said it was probably the work of one group of people rather than multiple groups.

Wire theft has become a nation-wide problem over the last few years because of a price increase in copper, Walquist said, and people have been stealing it from construction sites and power companies and selling it as scrap.

Koehler said he had been told that thieves could get up to $5 for a pound of copper.

“The wire is extremely heavy, it wouldn’t take that much to make a pound,” he said.

The danger isn’t worth the price, however.

“People have been killed attempting to cut down power-lines,” Walquist said.

Secret Witness is offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of copper wire thieves. Contact the Secret Witness Hotline at 775-322-4900, the Nevada County Sheriff’s office 582-7842, or Sierra Pacific’s security office at 775-834-4642 with any information on the thefts, callers will remain

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