Homes blacked out as thieves strike

Thieves caused a power surge which resulted in household appliancescatching fire, an energy supplier said yesterday.

Almost 400 properties in Westhoughton, Bolton, were cut off after a vital copper safety component, worth just 20, was stolen from a sub-station.

United Utilities said nobody was injured, but damage was caused to appliances including TVs, microwaves and a baby monitor.

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Mark Williamson, a spokesman for the supplier, said staff repaired the neutral connection in the sub-station and power was restored to homes last night.

The alarm was first raised shortly before 8am when people called the fire brigade to report their appliances had started smoking and catching fire.

Mr Williamson said: "230 volts is the normal voltage and when you lose the safety gear, that voltage can start to fluctuate and can go up to 400 volts, which is far over what most appliances can handle."