Update: Austin Energy now confirms the number of power pole fires last night was a record. The utility says tree limbs did not contribute to the large number of fires.
Update: Austin Energy says "power has been restored to virtually all customers, and will be restored to any remaining customers by lunchtime."
Austin Energy spokesperson Ed Clark says the utility experienced "probably a record number" of power pole fires, which lead to widespread power outages. And Austin's lack of rain, mixed with heavy overnight misting, is to blame.
Austin Energy writes:
The rash of fires is the result of a lack of rain over a long period of time. Dirt and dust builds up on the small devices (called insulators) that connect power lines to power poles. Misty conditions such as those experienced overnight can cause the dirt and dust to track across the insulator providing a pathway for electricity to move from the power line to the pole. There are about 140,000 power poles throughout the Austin Energy system.
"What the system really needs is a very good rain, a good hard rain to clean off ... the power poles in the Austin Energy system," Clark says.