Almost a kilometre of copper cabling vanished from an underground duct in Langford, in one of the more sophisticated wire thefts Vancouver Island has ever seen.
BC Hydro was alerted on Wednesday about a junction box sitting off its moorings near Goudy field, on Langford Parkway. Crews soon found an astonishing 770 metres of wire was gone, from the entrance to Westhills stretching to the business park next to Eagle Ridge arena.
As thick as a thumb, the wire would have weighed 5,000 pounds.
“This appears to be a well organized, well thought out, well orchestrated crime,” said Ted Olynyk, with BC Hydro. “This is significant for us. This is one of the largest thefts I’ve seen on Vancouver Island.”
The thieves entered a series of underground access vaults near the parkway and pulled the neutral ground wire out of a 25,000 volt circuit. The Sportsplex, nearby homes and businesses never lost power.
Olynyk said altering wiring within a high-voltage system endangers BC Hydro crews, the public and the people committing the theft. “The thieves either knew what they were doing, or were fortunate in their actions,” he said. “Certainly they could have been badly hurt. There could have been a fatality here.”
West Shore RCMP aren’t sure when the theft took place, although BC Hydro estimates it was probably a three-day job. Officials suspect the thieves may have looked like a utility work crew to the many people who drive to the bowling centre or ice rink at City Centre Park or to homes in Westhills.
“Clearly when they were doing this work they wanted to seem innocuous as possible,” Olynyk said.
West Shore RCMP Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz said investigators will be seeking any video surveillance in the area, but police are looking for witnesses.
“We are hoping somebody can think back and remember seeing people working at an unusual time,” Rochlitz said. “We are asking the public who use this area to think back and try and recall, did they see something out of place?”
Olynyk estimates replacing and installing the wire will cost at least $50,000, adding to $750,000 in wire damage and theft across B.C. seen in the last three months.
Theft of wire ebbs and flows with the price copper, but most incidents involve a few hundred metres at most, usually in isolated rural areas. Olynyk agreed this was an unusually sophisticated operation.
“By contrast, we had an event in Nanaimo where a guy cut down a (hydro) pole with a chain saw.”
Diane Starck, a facility manager with Ellis Recycle in Victoria, said thieves won’t get rich selling copper. Depending on the gauge, people might get one cent to 80 cents per pound for insulated wire, and less than $2 for clean copper wire.
“It takes a lot of copper to amount to much,” Starck said.
Ellis Recycle, as most other scrap metal dealers in the city, requires identification to sell metals and has closed-circuit cameras at its facilities. Ellis Recycle acting general manager Gary Leibel said they alert other recycling outfits if people try to sell suspected stolen property.
“If anything looks suspicious, we call the police,” Leibel said. “Anything like thick, brand new wires signals something is not right.”
Anyone with information can call West Shore RCMP at 250-474-2264 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).