Some blame 'smart' meter for Portland restaurant fire

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CMP, Fire Department say there’s no connection

PORTLAND — A small fire on May 25 at El Rayo, a York Street Mexican restaurant, was blamed on an electrical problem.

But some people are saying there’s more to the fire than a simple wiring issue.

Central Maine Power Co.’s vendor had installed a “smart” electrical meter on the building in January. The fire broke out in the electrical box where the meter connects to the building.

“Sorry for being closed at lunch. CMP’s allegedly smart meter caught fire and shut us down all day,” the restaurant posted May 25 on Facebook.

Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said he didn’t think the smart meter installation and the fire were related.

“It was just an electrical short nearby,” he said.

LaMontagne said neither the Fire Department nor the state fire marshal’s office were investigating the fire.

“CMP sent an electrician, and (the restaurant) had one there too,” he said.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said a meter reader had stopped by to check on the meter, part of routine maintenance, on May 20.

“He noticed the meter was hot,” Carroll said. “He told the owners to call an electrician to get it checked out.”

CMP does not own the boxes its meters are connected to, only the meters themselves.

Carroll explained that if CMP had pulled the meter off and discovered electrical problems, the company would have to shut off power to the restaurant until the issue was resolved, thus ruining business on a Friday night.

“It was a judgment call,” Carroll said.

Carroll said CMP returned to check on the meter Wednesday morning and found the restaurant still had not called an electrician. The fire broke out later that day.

The fire happened after the Maine Public Utilities Commission declined to formally investigate a complaint filed by Scarborough resident Averyl Hill and several other CMP customers that asked the regulatory agency to review the possibility of smart meter-related fires in buildings with older wiring.

“I can’t understand why there was no investigation of the El Rayo fire,” Hill said.

She pointed to a letter filed with the PUC by another CMP customer in Lebanon, who claimed his smart meter caught fire, burning his workshop down a month after the meter was installed.

In the PUC complaint, Hill said the vendor CMP hired to install the meters, VSI, hired employees with no formal training and that their training before installing the meters was not as comprehensive as CMP’s training of its own employees.

El Rayo was only closed for a short time after the fire, which damaged the meter box and area around the meter. CMP paid to replace the damaged meter box, Carroll said.

Representatives from El Rayo declined to discuss the fire or the meter, and said they were just glad the restaurant was open.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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