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Demonstration shows the power of downed electric lines

CLEARWATER — Things heated up quickly Thursday at a Progress Energy demonstration of the power — and danger — of electricity.

A hot dog flamed and was instantly charred inside when it was touched to a power line delivering 7,200 volts of electricity.

"It'll cook a hot dog quicker than any microwave in your house," said Red Flowers, a Progress Energy field supervisor. "I promise you that."

The purpose of blasting a hot dog with electricity was to demonstrate what can happen to the human body when someone touches a downed power line.

It is storm season in Florida, and Progress Energy officials wanted to impress on the public the dangers posed by downed power lines. So they held a dramatic demonstration for the media Thursday in Clearwater.

"Making it dramatic often makes it memorable," noted Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant.

The hot dog, hardened and blackened on the inside, was just one example meant to show that "not only is there heat, but the electricity goes right through you" when you touch a power line, Flowers said.

Using a live power line in a controlled environment, crews demonstrated how fuses blowing in a power line sound like gunshots.

They slid a tree branch against a power line and thin blue lights, like mini-lightning bolts, followed behind.

When a section of a string, connected to a kite, was held against the power line, the string melted. The newly separated string, which had absorbed electricity, was then used to power a light bulb.

During the spectacle, Flowers emphasized that the industry's main focus is on safety. Don't walk in puddles that have a downed power line across them, he said. If a power line falls on a vehicle, don't get out of the vehicle or go near it. "Wait until a first responder arrives," Flowers said.

When cleaning up debris after a storm, don't go near areas where there are downed power lines, he said. And don't take someone's word for it that a power line is dead.

"Never touch a line that's laying on the ground," Flowers said, even if a neighbor or friend says it is safe. "It's the same as 'I thought the gun was empty.' "

Basically, don't touch anything that a power line is touching. And call 911 if you see a downed line.

"You can't hear it. You can't smell it. You can see it, but if you touch it," said Progress Energy spokesman Rob Sumner, "you're dead."

Diedra Rodriguez can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or drodriguez@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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