Red hot pipes due to storm and lightning damage?


Old 11-29-10, 06:53 AM
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Location: Milwaukee WI
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Red hot pipes due to storm and lightning damage?

I ran across this on another site and wondered if anyone with electrical expertise has theories on how this occurred.

... a 100mph wind swept thru our neighborhood. There was lightning also, and it struck the transformer behind our house. At that time, our lights in the house dimmed and the tv went out. There were sparks all over our backyard, and a line went down. ... A few minutes later the entire house began to hum from within the walls.

I made another 911 call, and dispatch assured me the fire dept. would arrive asap, but we weren't the only ones with a problem. About 1/2 hr later, our walls began smoking. My husband started checking everywhere and found that the plumbing which is exposed in the basement was glowing red hot, so he turned on the tap to release pressure, and the water came out boiling.

About this time, the fire dept. arrived. They were shown the plumbing and had us all evacuate the house as they thought the plumbing might EXPLODE!!!

They called the electric company as the breaker in the house was off, but the house was receiving power surges. At that time, our entire house became electrified and you couldn't touch anything metal or you would get electrocuted.

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Old 11-29-10, 09:20 AM
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Given the magnitude of the heating on the plumbing, I would guess that the pole transformer malfunctioned or melted down in such a way that it was leaking primary voltage (4kV - 20kV) onto the neutral conductor. The impedance to earth was high enough to prevent the conductors from fusing (melting), but still could dump a lot of kW through the copper tubing. The fact that the guy didn't die opening the tap makes me hesitant of that explanation though.

I suppose just a really good short of the secondary (240V) could have done it too, but that doesn't sound as cool.
Old 11-29-10, 09:38 AM
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My theory is that the secondary neutral on POCOís side became energized. This is causing the neutral for each service drop going to the homes to become energized. This fault eventually caused the main breaker at the home(s) to trip (i.e., Ďas the breaker in the house was offí). Because the neutral wire was hot, homes who had it grounded to a plumbing pipe was causing the pipes to be energized from the back feed on POCOís side.

From reading what some plumbing posters were saying, the lightning strike is confusing them in their analysis. There are at least three different faults on POCOís side that could cause this to happen at least to the point of the meter can being energized. There is not enough info to rule out all three as there was no voltage reading shown in the info posted. First, a damaged and fallen primary distribution line could be dangling and coming into contact w/ the secondary lines . . . imo, this would be the least likely scenario of the three as two protective devices (primary and secondary fuses) did not work although extremely high voltages might explain the Ďredí hot pipes. More likely would be (i) a faulty transformer damaged internally by the lightning strike has caused the neutral lug to become hot (could be transmitting secondary or primary voltage), or (ii) a damaged and fallen secondary hot leg could be dangling and coming into contact w/ the secondary neutral wire if this was constructed as a secondary bus.

I would stress this would be an uncommon, extremely rare occurrence. Iíve not witnessed a situation as exactly described in this OP, but think it could happen if everything aligned correctly to create a worse case scenario. It would take a problem on POCOís side as well as being dependent on how the electrician made his neutral/grounding connections on the house side. While still uncommon, emergency line crews and trouble men get calls to respond to wire down, and sometimes these wires are hot. The wire down was not sufficiently grounded to blow the fuse. One of the more dangerous conditions is when coming on a vehicle accident involving a pole badly damaged or down on the ground. If the live wire is dangling over a damaged vehicle, the rubber tires of that vehicle will make it seem like the vehicle is not energized until an injured person inside the vehicle attempts to step out or someone trying to help touches it. While a live wire sometimes shows visual evidence such as arching, brush burning or asphalt pavement on fire, other times it doesnít show any visual evidence making it even more hazardous.
Old 11-29-10, 09:44 AM
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Rob gave a much better answer!

I had one other thought that perhaps there was no lightning strike at all. The wind may have caused a primary to come down, which would seem like a lightning strike given the flash and boom, but that could explain some of the other circumstances too like why the primary fuse on the transformer didn't pop.
Old 11-29-10, 11:04 AM
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The fact that the guy didn't die opening the tap makes me hesitant of that explanation though.
I was thinking he was standing on a non conductive surface and because everything was red hot wearing gloves or less likely some how use a wood stick to knock the faucet handle open. Then too the faucet could have been connected with nylon supply lines or even the faucet could have been mostly plastic. Just wild guesses.
Old 11-29-10, 07:43 PM
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Just give you a head up the POCO primary fuse are not fast blowing type they are sized to handle pretty good overload for short while { up to 300% } and short circuits typicaly not very fast blowing not like standard low voltage fuse we are used to and we know how fast the standard low voltage fuse react { the low voltage fuse which I refer to common 600 volt or less fuse not super low voltage fuse like 12 or 24 volt critters }

I will make a reply to that forum when the time permits to explain little more clear on that one and it time to bring mythbuster out on this one.

Old 11-30-10, 07:29 AM
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I'd be surprised if this was a primary fault. To get a water pipe that hot would take hundreds of amps, not thousands of volts. Will a residential primary support many hundreds of amps for many minutes??
Old 11-30-10, 08:53 PM
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Residences are fed from the secondary side of the transformer. The primary side can be thousands of volts and can power all of the transformers in a neighborhood, each with the capability of passing hundreds of amps.

I can't see how this could have anything to do with a residential power system. With a primary wire touching the ground nearby, the home's power system would be out of the mix.

There have been many cases where a primary line has come into contact with the ground and electrified the earth and structures for hundreds of feet. It doesn't surprise me that the water pipes in a house could take that heavy load to ground -- and heat up in the process. The pipes may simply be providing a lower-impedance path than the surrounding dirt.

Nor does it surprise me that the primary-side breakers don't trip. The load may be enough to make water pipes glow, but there's still enough resistance in the path to make the system think it's just a neighborhood with a bunch of air conditioners running.
Old 12-01-10, 08:42 AM
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I donít know if this OP could be an Internet hoax as that is one possibility. On the other hand, I wouldnít dismiss a possibility of it happening as Iíve seen enough large electrical fires ranging from a substation virtually burnt to the ground, large vaults in high tower buildings and numerous electrical distribution facilities completely destroyed by fire. In these situations, a utility worker must never approach these unusual events as thinking something canít happen. In fact, many reveal something highly unusual or something not seen before . . . thatís one reason why design and construction standards evolve over time.

Iíve also learned not to accept what a lay person on the scene says happened w/o first having that independently verified by those trained to perform a forensic and safety investigation. Ben made an astute observation about the lightning strike as folks often say the transformer was struck by lightning when theyíre simply hearing the explosion of the pot. Most explode from overload and over heating which causes an internal part to malfunction, and the number of pot change outs dramatically rise when outdoor temps reach abnormal high and low temps as customerís loads spike. Another questionable comment was Ďbut the house was receiving power surgesí. I wonder how that person knows it is a series of power surges when the breaker appears to be tripped . . . if that observation is correct, it makes me think that high winds was causing the Ďhotí wire to periodically blow into the neutral on the pole . . . it could be a Ďhotí secondary or primary wire. Another possibility is that when a large pole fire occurs where the transformer and pole is on fire, the flames shooting out can cause the primary and secondary sides to arc across one another which might explain power surges occurring. The neutral at the pole is not fused so it sometimes takes considerable abuse before burning down. While each pole should be grounded, often times the copper ground running the length of the pole has been inadvertently cut near ground level or 6í or so has been cut out by someone stealing the copper for scrap value. When a safety device such as a fuse does not function as intended, eventually something like a wire eventually burns through to clear itself but can take a considerable amount of time to do so.

Concerning the comment about a primary wire size being small. That is sometimes true as the distribution feeder shoots out lateral lines. However, since nothing is known about this location, itís very possible that this residential property is being fed from a 3-phase trunk line coming out of the substation or a main feeder. The conductor size on these type distribution lines are quite large and far larger than the secondary distribution wire. The neutral would burn open before a conductor of this size would. For the most part, the electrical system at the distribution level canít distinguish a difference between a customer vs. fault load. It acts similar to a welder as it attempts to feed electrons across the wires when an increasing load is occurring, and the reason these type faults can create intense heat.

I would leave two thoughts. First, an event of this type is uncommon, and a rare exception when viewed by the massive amount of wire spanning this country. For utility workers who are called to emergency scenes, they will see quite a few of these type events although the one specifically described in the OP would be a strange occurrence, especially when Ďredí hot pipes are glowing. The other issue is safety. If youíre ever confronted by a downed wire, burning transformer, or a vehicle accident involving injuries where a down wire is involved, stay clear and let emergency professionals handle the situation. Most of the injuries or deaths to the public are caused by tree trimming and digging underground. My POCO constantly runs TV ads and send brochures about public safety, and yet I see things when driving that are shocking (no pun intended) . . . people on metal ladders cutting trees near power lines, and children playing on top of URD transformers situated on the property are the most obvious ones.

Here are some videos that may help someone understand the intensity of an electrical fire on POCOís side. I tried to only select several that somewhat fit this situation. There a good number more showing substations and transmission lines on fire, and a variety of others should you care to see more.

YouTube - Electrical Arcing from Primary Line Causes Fire at WINGS Resale Shop that Destroys Building amazing to me that someone didnít instruct POCO to drop this feeder (or if instructed, didnít do it) . . . in todayís modern world, dispatch should be able to remotely disconnect a feeder at the substation.

Video: Electrical fire in Cincinnati. |

ELECTRICAL SAFETY ON THE FIREGROUND - Fire Engineering last pic shows residential area served by large conductor primary line

YouTube - BOOM!!! this one shows the service drops to homes firing up; it looks like secondary, not primary flashes.

YouTube - LYONS,IL- POWER LINES ON FIRE/ARCHING & SPARKING live wire on ground; probably a primary line; if this line was blowing into a poorly grounded neutral, it would be firing that up too.

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