It can be a surreal sight. A line of fire stretching across a power line and lighting up the ground or sky. But it should also remind you just how dangerous coming in contact with power lines can be.

Power lines carry electricity from power plants and substations to businesses and residents. They play an integral part in providing the power we need for everyday life. However, transmitting high amounts of electricity gives them the ability to do significant damage. For reference, high voltage lines typically carry electricity at 345,000 volts, when 50 volts is considered lethal.

So, what causes a power line to spark or catch fire?

The most common causes are weather-related events that cause damage to lines and the equipment attached to them. Once damaged or downed, wires may contact trees and other combustible materials resulting in sparks, smoke and fires. When thinking about storms, we often think of thunderstorms and strong winds, but ice and snow can wreak equal damage.

Other causes include animal or human contact, equipment failures, and conductor slaps. A conductor slap occurs when line conductors slap together creating a high-energy arc and ejecting hot metal particles capable of starting fires.

At DTE, we’re doing everything in our power to limit these occurrences. That’s why we’re trimming trees that may interfere with power lines during storms and adding new technologies to improve our equipment. Still, some external factors are unavoidable, so continue to use extreme caution when dealing with any form of electricity.

What do you do if you see a damaged wire?

It’s important to remember that power lines don’t always arc, spark or catch ablaze, but they should always be treated with extreme caution. Whether they’re on fire running in-between utility poles or laying quietly on the ground, always stay at least 20 feet away from all wires and anything they’re touching. Once in a safe location, call 9-1-1 and DTE at 800.477.4747.

For more information about how to safely deal with power lines and downed wires, visit