California Wild Fires Could Be Deliberate
By Vincent Rhodes
California wildfires are raging out of control. In fact, there have been so many wildfires lately, until some are beginning to question the likelihood of these fires starting on their own. Some people have even started looking into the possibility that these fires might be due to smart meters. Smart meters have been placed on many houses nationwide, but especially in California. Some people believe that smart meters are very dangerous. The most dangerous ‘feature’ found in the majority of smart meters in use today is the remote-disconnect option. The increased risk posed by the Smart Meter Remote Disconnect (RD) from the perspective of the cyber threat to the grid. In addition, however, the RD is one of the features of a smart meter (compared to other types of electricity meters) that increases the risk of catastrophic meter failures and resulting building fires. To illustrate how smart meter RDs can lead to fires, this article highlights EFI Global, Inc. (EFI)’s forensic investigation results for a fancy Sensus smart meter, due to be launched in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Julywas involved in a fire2015 . There were in fact two separate evaluations of the failed smart meter, first a non-destructive review in July 2015 and a non-destructive review in April 2016. Here is an excerpt from the forensic report for non-destructive testing:It should be noted that this meter is a new “smart meter” that is different from the original electromechanical meter, which has replaced it in at least three main points:The new meter has a plastic housing, while most older electromechanical meters had a glass housing. Plastic housings can easily melt and burn, as indicated by the condition of the meter in section “HP” (house panel) of this panel. The new meter has a remote-controlled switch that allows the utility to disconnect power from a remote location. Older electro-mechanical counters were typically not equipped with such switches. Switch contacts can have bad contact and generate heat. The new meters feature a complex circuit board built into the meter that supports wireless communication, metering, and the operation driver for the remote disconnect function mentioned above. One resident even believes that such switches could be used to deliberately start fires.
The only power available to support these features is the incoming 120/240-volt line voltage or a buffer battery built into the meter. Cardboard firing is generally nothing new for forensic investigators. They are well documented as fires in computers, household appliances and industrial equipment, to name but a few. However, given all of the recent widespread wildfires in California, it might be worth investigating this phenomenon more closely.