Half of city blazes blamed on PECO pole fires – BFP

Wooden poles with broken cross arm are considered fire hazards by experts.

By: Francis Allan L. Angelo

More than half, or 1,464 of 2,887 fire incidents, in Iloilo City since January 2014 were caused by pole fires.

Worse, the number of pole fires continues to rise because the utility that owns the poles, Panay Electric Co. (PECO), lacks trained technical people to solve the problem, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) reported to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

Iloilo City Fire Marshall, Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia, said he reported to the ERC that PECO informed the BFP that it has no technical people to attend to the pole fires except to monitor and document the cases.

Regencia said he finds PECO’s failure to deal with fire incidents involving its electricity poles a big dent in the resources of the fire department, unlike in other cities like in Cagayan de Oro City – where he was last assigned before Iloilo City, where the distribution utility has its own fire prevention and containment unit to deal with pole fires.

Regencia submitted the report to the ERC in support of the complaint filed by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas against the alleged public safety threat posed by PECO’s “inadequately-maintained lines, power outages and hazardous electric posts” because of the numerous and continuing cases of electricity pole fires in the city.

PECO had claimed only a final technical assessment could determine if it is to blame for the pole fires as it noted that wires of telecommunications and cable TV companies are also connected to their electricity poles.

But Regencia noted that the telecommunications companies’ wires usually carry 24-volt charge as opposed to PECO wires which have 220-voltage charge.

“Only electricity wires, either damaged or overloaded, can cause fires and not telephone or cable tv wires,” BFP told ERC in a report.

BFP records submitted by Regencia to the ERC showed that from Jan. 1, 2014 to Oct. 29, 2019, a total of 2,887 fire incidents occurred in Iloilo City, with pole fires numbering 1,464 cases, or 51.187 percent of all fire incidents during the almost six-year period.

Two hundred and twenty-four pole fires occurred out of the 427 fire incidents in 2014, while 228 cases of pole fires happened in 2015, 303 cases in 2016, 275 incidents in 2017 and another 233 pole fires in 2018.

A total of 201 pole fires erupted in the city from January to October 27, 2019, and the cases continue to rise even as more similar incidents happen.

The fire department listed the official reason for these incidents as “Short Circuit Secondary Service Lines,” which basically meant exposed electricity wires bursting into flames after short circuiting and burning the wooden poles where they were connected.

The BFP also said another factor behind the pole fires is PECO’s failure to solve the problem of illegal connections or “jumpers” where connections are usually through wires tapping onto spliced PECO wires. The open wire cause pole fires when strong winds or other factors sever the “jumpers” from the main distribution lines.

Treñas said he filed the complaint with Malacañang because “PECO studiously ignored informal and formal appeals from his office to address the problem by fixing or replacing its old distribution wires and electricity poles.”

Treñas said he was particularly alarmed after the Iloilo City Fire Marshall and the BFP reported that in three days alone from Oct. 19 to 21, nine PECO electricity poles all around the city caught fire either due to exploding transformers or severed electricity lines, setting fire on the wooden poles.

Recently, Treñas was enraged by the statement of PECO Public Engagement and Government Affairs head Marcelo Cacho who shrugged off the pole fires as “not a big issue.”

Mayor said the safety and security of the people of Iloilo and damage to government property should not be treated as a small matter.

Trenas also said that if Cacho thinks that this is not a big issue, that is his treatment while adding, “bahala sya sa kabuhi nya, bahala man ako sa kabuhi ko”.

PECO lost its congressional franchise in January 2019 after failing to convince Congress to renew it in the face of consumer complaints of poor quality and safety issues against its distribution assets, unfriendly customer relations culture among its staff, and frequent power outages.

It is now operating under a provisional Certificate of `Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the ERC until the new distribution utility, More Electric and Power Corp., completes its full takeover of the city’s distribution system.

Under ERC Resolution No. 5, Series of 2008, any distribution utility granted a CPCN to operate a distribution system in any area must comply with standards set under the Philippine Grid Code and the Philippine Distribution Code, especially those that concern public safety.

The new distribution utility MORE Power said these incidents “show the futility of PECO’s continuing resistance of Congress’ and Malacañang’s action to replace it as it had even failed to re-invest the billions it earned from Iloilo City consumers to ensure their safety.”

“A quick tour around the city would reveal spaghetti lines, lopsided poles, and electric meters stuck in electric poles from top to bottom which frankly trigger trypophobia (an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps). A picture of disaster waiting to happen,” MORE Power said.