Investigators are searching for the cause of a fire that killed a 74-year-old Dallas man near Fair Park Monday night.[[290657981,L]]
James Humphrey Jr. was alone in the house at the time of the fire, but cousin Alfreda Johnson lives next door and she drove up just as the fire began.
“When we got here, the fire was going straight up in the air and it was coming from the meter,” she said.
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Johnson also suspects a new “smart” meter was a factor in a fire four years ago at her own house.
“Something’s not right about that,” she said.
A statement from Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said there was a different conclusion about the 2011 fire.
“Investigators determined that this fire was the result of an unspecified electrical short in the fixed wiring of the house. More specifically, 'the fire started in the wall space of the hallway bathroom and traveled into the attic,' causing major damage,” Evans' statement said.
Evans said firefighters Monday night first noticed flames coming from a window when they arrived at Humphrey’s house in the 4000 block of Spring Avenue and not from the power meter.
Relatives told NBC 5 that Humphrey used a walker and may not have been able to get out on his own.
"We know he was found in the floor of the bedroom as opposed to being in the bed," Evans said.
On Tuesday investigators from Dallas Fire-Rescue and power provider Oncor returned together to look for clues about the cause of the fire.
They looked closely at the area where the electric meter had been and found the box undamaged. The meter was still intact on the box after the fire was out, but the meter was removed later by power company workers, according to witnesses.
News reports from other cities indicate there have been questions raised elsewhere about possible links to fire from smart meters, but Oncor spokesman Justin Ozuna issued a statement denying smart meters are the cause of fire.
“Our thoughts are with the family in this difficult time. We are working closely with the Dallas Fire Department to understand the cause of the fire. While we understand the concerns regarding the meter, it is important to note that due to the nature and function of the advanced meters, there has been no prior instance where such a meter has caused a fire in a dwelling. Nevertheless, we look forward to completing a full investigation,” his statement said.
Mohammad Khodayar, professor of electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University, said smart meters have new communication features that provide usage data and remote control.
“Whatever passes through the wire, it only measures that and sends a signal,” Khodayar said.
In other respects, the professor said the new meters operate in much the same way as traditional meters in providing electricity to a customer.
“If you’re talking about the technology itself, I don’t think that smart meter is the source of trouble. But if you’re talking about a specific meter or a specific installation or anything that may happen, yes, you may have problems with the wiring, you may have problems with the rain, with moisture, all those things may happen in a circuit,” Khodayar said.
Alfreda Johnson wondered if older wiring in the homes in her neighborhood is unable to handle currents from the new smart meters, but Khodayar said the meters do not change the power running into a home.
“The device itself is not something that’s injecting some kind of weird current or any type of huge current that causes the trouble,” he said.
Evans said the cause of Monday’s fire is still under investigation.
NBC 5's Todd L. Davis contributed to this report.