Madison's Water Utility officials can't say whether the efforts to thaw a water pipe may have fried electrical wires in a neighboring home.
The incident happened on Madison's west side about 10 days ago.
Matt Sally said he and his family came home to smoke in the house and the smell of burnt plastic. After calls to the fire department, Madison Gas and Electric and then Tri-City Electrician Joe Gehin, they discovered that the ground wire for the house had been fried. The ground had been connected to the city's water pipes. Around the same time, the Madison Water Utility was thawing a lateral across the street.
"Whatever procedures they take to melt the frozen pipes, whether it's an arc welder or whatever it was, some sort of current was too much for this wire to handle and for some reason it came into this residence and melted away," Gehin said.
A spokeswoman for the water utility said at this point the utility can't say it did or didn't cause the problems.
"I think it's not out of the realm of possibility," said Amy Barrilleaux, with the Madison Water Utility. "We're taking it very seriously, and our risk management team with the city is looking hard into this. We are running an electric current through a metal pipe to heat it up to thaw it."
Of 365 pipes the utility has thawed this year, a total far greater than the five it typically does, officials say this is the first reported problem.
But that doesn't make it any less of a concern for Sally.
"We're fortunate that our home didn't burn down and that there was no more damage than there was," Sally said. "But we do want to make sure everyone is safe and that procedures are done safely and properly, and people are aware that it is happening."
Sally said he hoped the city could start notifying neighbors if there was going to be thawing work done near them. He said he would have stayed home if he knew this was a possibility.
Water utility officials said they can't wait until all neighbors are notified because they need to work quickly to get water working again to people's homes.
Sally has filed a request with the city to pay for his electrical costs.
Madison Water Utility said they're aware of at least one other case related to electrical issues, but no other homeowners have filed claims.