Fire Hazards

Small wireless communications facilities are capable of spontaneously combusting.  Macro towers also catch fire.  Usually the Macro towers are anywhere from 1/2 mile to 2 miles away from where we live and work, so we are not as aware of or as effected by their combustion as we are by the close proximity, smaller, very powerful cell sites. Due to the new technologies being deployed, these smaller communications towers will consume enormous amounts of power resulting in very high heat production.

Their cooling systems can fail, and if a pole has several co-locations (more than one carrier’s equipment allowed by the Joint Pole Association), it results in an over-loaded pole and therefore becomes a greater fire ignition source.The Malibu fire in 2007 was caused by So Cal Edison line failures and 3 cellular communications companies whose cell sites had overloaded the poles.

Cellular antennas located close to trees and vegetation, particularly if the trees are dehydrated, thin leaved or high in terpene or aromatic oils secretion, is a potential fire hazard. If the site is close to power lines over head, any over heating, malfunction, arcing, strong winds, seismic events, slides, heavy rains, collisions, put that site at risk of igniting. 

Our Fire Department also reported that in 2019 we saw a 50% increase in electrically caused fires. On Jan 28, 2019, the LA times reported, “Equipment owned by California’s three largest utilities ignited more than 2,000 fires in three and a half years — a timespan in which state regulators cited and fined the companies nine times for electrical safety violations.

The California Public Utilities Commission, Director of Safety and Enforcement stated in the LA Times, “They (CPUC) reviews an average of 120 incidents a year of potential violations by various types of utilities, and not just electrical. (2017). They failed in thousands of instances over a 5-year period to conduct timely inspections and repairs.” 

Electro magnetic fires burn excessively hotter and faster than natural fuel fires with unique complications of their own. Until the temperature of the fire has decreased, firefighters cannot enter the area. Therefore the facility first must be shut down before any firefighting begins. This takes additional time for dispatch to shut off the site, if the shut off switch is on the site itself. Waiting for heat abatement could take up to an hour, which by then, enormous damage and fire spread would occur.  There is also the added danger of electrocution to both residents and firefighters. 

When cell towers burn, they spew a noxious, black smoke that travels for miles. The molten metals, plastics, and other structural materials add additional dangerous pollutants to an already highly toxic smoke. Smoke air pollution is a serious health risk to every human and animal, while fire retardants and resultant ground pollutants work their way into our ocean, our properties and water. Fire retardants also cause soil to become slick that if heavily rained upon after a fire, increases the risk of mudslides. The toxic after-effects of a fire last for years. Fire particulate spewed into our atmosphere miles up precipitates to earth for several years after.

Backup Systems

Back up power for these sites, particularly those designated for emergency use, often use diesel fuel over batteries. Our Fire Department is aware of these diesel storage tanks and are keeping their watch over them.  It is of concern that having tons of diesel fuel stored underground adds yet another highly toxic material to our land. In the event of any serious earthquake or mudslides, these containers could be at risk of destabilization, damage and leakage. Diesel fuel will combust at a high flash point, and is considered a highly toxic and dangerous material.

Fall Zones

HUD guidelines categorize cell towers with “hazards and nuisances.” HUD  prohibits FHA underwriting of mortgages for homes that are within the engineered fall zone of a cell tower.