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Inspection of water devices to take months

Water director says there's no evidence devices in question have caused fires

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Following an April 17 fire that destroyed two homes in Castle Rock and killed two pet dogs, the town announced it would begin inspecting 5,300 water-meter reading devices, one of which was located near the source of the April blaze.

The town maintained the move was in an abundance of caution, that the fire was still under investigation and a cause had yet to be determined.

The company that makes the devices, Sensus, has been linked to fires before. Media reports largely in 2014 show Sensus electric utility smart meter devices were uninstalled in Oregon and investigations were called in Nevada, in two examples, after some smart meters allegedly malfunctioned and in rare cases caught fire.

Water director Mark Marlowe said the products that made headlines in years past are not the same as what Castle Rock is inspecting. Those smart systems were hooked up to buildings' electrical systems, Marlowe said.

The products Castle Rock uses are battery-powered, remote reading devices. They allow utility employees to read water meters remotely from their vehicles as they drive past homes, which Marlowe says saves time and is a more efficient method.

“Totally different product,” Marlowe said. “We have not been able to find any evidence that these units have ever been implicated in a fire.”

He says the town consulted with the manufacturer and brought in an outside consultant, Sellon Forensics Inc., in weighing the decision to inspect devices.

Sensus products have been used in Castle Rock for 20 years with no issue, according to a town news release announcing the inspections, and the town is one of about 14,000 providers nationwide using Sensus products, Marlowe said.

The model Castle Rock is inspecting was installed in 2015. About 15,000 older models are used throughout town but are no longer manufactured. The town has replaced them as they stop working, Marlowe said. Battery life lasts about 20 years.

During the ongoing inspection, town staff will look for any evidence of tampering, damage and conduct communication tests to see if the 5,300 devices are functioning properly. They'll also watch for fire hazards such as nearby landscaping with flammable vegetation or clutter near the devices.

A juniper shrub was planted near the device involved in the April 17 fire, also near a gas meter.

Residents are advised to keep the 3- to 6-foot area near any utility equipment clear. Homeowners will be notified if devices on their property are inspected.

Marlowe anticipated the inspection process to take three to six months. The town had not announced any updates to the April 17 fire investigation as of May 8.

“This is really us being proactive," Marlowe said.

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