Myths & Misconceptions About Power Lines

Stay away. Downed power lines can be deadly… even if they look harmless.

Have you ever wondered why a bird can sit on a live wire or what you should do if a power line is on the ground? Here are some questions and answers to some common misconceptions concerning power lines, birds on a wire and other conundrums:

Q: What do I do if I see a downed power line?

A: Vacate the area and call 911 to report it. Do not return to the area until you are given the go-ahead by authorities.

Q: Can I tell from looking or listening if a downed power line is still live?

A: Absolutely not. Although it’s possible you could see or hear signs that the power line is live, a live wire may not spark or arc and it may not make any noise at all.

Q: Where might downed power lines be?

A: A downed power line might be in the street, ditch or field after a bad storm or car accident. It could also be lurking in flood­water or under debris, trees or other objects after a severe storm. Once a line is on the ground, it is not automatically dead, even if the power is off in your area. There’s a good chance the line is still energized, which not only means you should not touch it, it also means the surrounding ground and any metal objects nearby could be energized and extremely dangerous, even deadly.

Q: Why might a power line be down or damaged?

A: A car accident may cause a line to be hanging down or on the ground; severe weather could damage a pole or line; or, in some cases, it’s caused by another unfore­seeable reason, such as a storm-damaged tree or hungry squirrel.

Q: Why can a bird sit on a power line and not be hurt? Doesn’t that mean the line is insulated?

A: No. Lines are sometimes coated for protection against the elements but are still deadly on contact. A bird or other critter can sit on a power line because there is no path to ground. If the animal comes in contact with the utility pole or other grounded source, it will be electrocuted, just as a person would be under the same circumstances.

Q: Do different kinds of utility lines look different?

A: Perhaps, but, for the most part, the nonutility professional cannot know what kind of line it is and what it carries — electricity, phone service, cable televi­sion and so on — just by looking. You also can’t tell how much voltage it is carrying by its appearance.

Q: What if my car comes in contact with a downed power line?

A: Do not get out and do not try to drive over it. Call 911 and wait for utility personnel to de-energize the line. If you smell gas or if there is a fire, exit your car with a solid jump, landing on both feet (but don’t touch the car at the same time) and do not walk, but rather shuffle away without lifting your feet.

Q: Can I help someone who is in an accident involving a downed power line?

A: No. Do not go near the scene and warn others not to do so. Although our first instinct is often to help, a person running near an energized area could get electrocuted.

Contact Sangre de Cristo Electric Association at 719-395-2412 with any questions about downed lines. For more information about electrical safety, visit