SHFAD Discovery of Electrified Rock: Unveiling the Power of Electricity

Photo by Sky Chappell – The rock pictured was found on the scene of a fire with electrical lines down. SHFAD found the rock and will use it to teach others just how powerful electricity can be.

Following a brush fire in Cascadia, the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District recovered a rock in the area that will serve as an educational tool about fires.

On March 15 at 12:34 p.m., SHFAD received a distress call reporting a wire down in the rural area of Cascadia, approximately 13 miles east of Sweet Home. First arriving units found flames two to three feet high along Highway 20, quickly moving into nearby trees and brush.

“Extinguishing the fire proved difficult due to a live power line on the ground, but thanks to Pacific Power’s quick response, crews were able to contain the fire to about a 300’ x 25’ area,” SHFAD Chief Nick Tyler said.

SHFAD was assisted on scene by an engine from Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon State Police and Linn County Sheriff’s Office. 

“This is a startling reminder of how fast fuels can dry out with just a few days of sunshine, as we are far ahead of the normal time of year we see incidents such as this,” Tyler said.

Following the successful extinguishing of the fire, SHFAD members stumbled upon an intriguing find: a rock with a peculiar hole caused by the electrical line. Surprisingly, the rock retained its heat and emitted steam, indicating the recent passage of electricity through it.

Tyler expressed his astonishment as he showed board members the rock.

“I have never seen anything like it in 22 years in the fire service,” he said.

The incident highlighted the profound effects that electricity can have on rocks. For example, when a power line comes into contact with a rock, it can generate enough heat to melt the rock, transforming it into glass. Similarly, the intense heat can induce crack formation in the rock, a process that can be simulated using numerical models. Additionally, as voltage travels through the earth, it dissipates due to the resistive nature of rock and soil.

Furthermore, lightning strikes can also have dramatic effects on rocks. When lightning hits a rock, it can cause heating to over 2,000 kelvins near the strike point, leading to the burning off of organic material. The intense heat can cause the rock to burst in milliseconds, reaching temperatures of up to 54,000°F (almost 30,000°C).

Lightning can also shock rocks at the atomic level and alter their atomic structure, leaving behind shock features in quartz and disrupting mineral structures. 

Safety around fallen power lines is of utmost importance. Guidance from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) advises individuals to maintain a minimum safe distance of 35 feet from any felled electrical wire, which is approximately the length of an average school bus. It is imperative to keep children and pets away from these hazards to prevent accidents and injuries.

The rock recovered by SHFAD will serve as a valuable teaching tool for firefighters and linemen, demonstrating the sheer force and impact of high-intensity electrical lines. Tyler mentioned receiving a request from Travis Miner, an employee of PG&E, who expressed interest in using the rock for training purposes to illustrate the power of such lines.

“I did get a phone call from Travis Miner,” Tyler said. “He’s like, ‘Where’s the rock and what are you doing with it? I’d really like to have it here, I’d like to train with it.’ So we’re going to house it, but he’s going to take the rock for training just to show the power of a high intensity line and what it can do.”

While the rock will be housed at SHFAD, it will also be utilized for educational purposes to enhance understanding of the power of electricity in the field.