Homes hit by electric fires after copper theft

An electrical power surge caused by copper thieves led to more than 70 call-outs for firefighters as washing machines and televisions caught fire.

An electrical power surge caused by copper thieves led to more than 70 call-outs for firefighters as washing machines and televisions caught fire.

Almost 400 properties near Bolton were left without power after the thieves stole a vital copper safety component, worth just £20, from a power sub-station.

May Wilkinson, 65, and her husband Albert Knight, 70, described how their microwave burst into flames and their TV set-top box billowed smoke.

The properties in the Westhoughton area were cut off by energy supplier United Utilities until the part was replaced.

Mrs Wilkinson, of Southfield Drive, Westhoughton, said: "It shook me up, you don't expect to see smoke coming out of your television.

"I was just making myself a cup of coffee at about 8am and I put my television on. Then suddenly I heard a 'poof' noise.

"At first I thought, 'What was that?', and sat down in my chair.

"Then I saw smoke coming out of my digi-box and I jumped up quick and turned off the box at the plug.

"Shortly afterwards my husband was in the kitchen, and he saw a huge flame come out of the microwave. It frightened him to death."

The alarm was first raised at around 8am when people called the fire service to report their appliances had started smoking and catching fire.

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "At around 8am we started to receive a large volume of calls in the Westhoughton area of Bolton.

"All these calls were caused by the electrical power surge in houses in the area enclosed by Wigan Road, Leigh Road and Cricketers Way, and resulted in a total of 71 incidents being attended by 11am.

"Of the 71 incidents attended, 48 resulted in damage to electrical equipment, including 36 fuse boxes, a number of televisions, washing machines and electrical appliances.

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