Copper Theft Causes Power Outage

August 15, 2012 Updated Aug 16, 2012 at 10:03 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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August 15, 2012 Updated Aug 16, 2012 at 10:03 AM EDT

Alden, NY (WKBW) - Hundreds of people in Alden were left without power Wednesday morning, after power was knocked out by a thief who was trying to make a quick buck.

The power was returned by mid-morning morning thanks to hours of work by NYSEG crews -- but not thanks to a thief or thieves who broke into a NYSEG substation early in the morning to steal valuable copper wire inside.

The thief or thieves stole a hundred dollars worth of copper wire, causing a small fire on a transformer.

Chief of Special Services Scott Patronik tells Eyewitness News "these are a high voltage substation and the risk of electrocution is great. Even at this point we suspect the person may have been injured ."

Once the copper wires were cut, a fire ignited inside the transformer.

Mark Landsman lives across the street, and heard the sparks flying.

He says "it never downed on me it was across the street and I heard sparks shooting and a little bit of flame."

Landsman says he was scared, and his first thoughts were "I hope it don't blow up! Because we're close to it and we're close to the gas thing there."

The fire knocked out power to 1,400 customers from about 6:30 to 10:30 in the morning.

Bob Eleczko, the Assistant Fire Chief for Millgrove Fire Department, explains "we got there ... Transformer was on fire, sparking and a blue flame traveling up the pole. But there's not a lot we can do until NYSEG gets there. So they got there and cut all the power, and when they did all the lights went out."

Eleczko says whoever stole the copper wiring put many lives at risk, and not just their own. He says "it could have back fed, could have shorted out, could have started fires in houses, could have done a lot of things."

Investigators believe whoever stole the copper wiring cut a hole in a fence.

Right now copper theft is on the rise, prompting more theft of the medal in Western New York.

The Erie County Sheriff's Department is investigating the theft as trespassing and criminal mischief.

Patronik says investigators still do not know if they are looking for one or multiple suspects.

However, based on the way the wiring was cut, they believe theft or thieves are amateurs. Patronik also believes anyone involved could have sustained electrical burns.

Anyone with information should call the Erie County Sheriff's Department.