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State Safety Officials Warn of Underground Dangers

URBANA-- Urbana Fire Captain Dave Wisher says, "I remember a fire we had once, electrical fire. It was a 3 or 5,000 volt deal on Lincoln Avenue. And it only takes a quarter of an amp to kill you, so that was kind of a wild one." Wisher says his department sees a big jump in gas leaks each spring as home projects and construction efforts ramp back up.

The state's utility locator service, JULIE, was created to help prevent disasters. Damage Prevention Manager Brian MacKenzie says, "We are a message and handling service, so if a homeowner was to call into JULIE and say, 'I want to dig up my property,' we take that information and pass that information along to the utility companies and they're the ones that come out and locate."

Gas lines, electric lines, water pipes, and sewer pipes all run underground throughout Champaign-Urbana, and each poses a challenge if disturbed. MacKenzie says, "You want to treat all these utilities as the same. Dig carefully around them to avoid any type of disruption of service or any type of disaster." JULIE works with local emergency services and utility companies to prepare for emergency situations.

Wisher says, "They have a pretty good training budget and really good training programs, and at least once a year we can get with them and Ameren's really good about scheduling days so we can get all three shifts in there."

But even with preparation and prevention, mistakes are often made. Wisher says, "The natural gas is the biggest hazard we have out there. As soon as they clip one of those and we have that leak, you've always got the potential for a static-electric charge setting it off."

Adam Rife reporting