Copper wire thefts on rise in county

Copper wire thefts have been on the rise in Hutchinson County.According to Captain Aaron R. McWilliams of the Hutchinson County Sheriff’s Office, the HCSO has seen a dramatic increase in the theft of copper over the past year.“These thefts have impacted local citizens, local businesses, farmers, ranchers, and the oil and gas industry,” he said. “Over the past year an estimated $100,000 in lost production, lost equipment, and lost property has been investigated by area law enforcement.”Capt. McWilliams said there are several ways area residents can assist in slowing this trend of damaging local economies due to the theft of copper. Recently, thieves have been stealing copper wire during the day and may be posing as legitimate electricians.“If you have any concerns about any suspicious activity, we ask you contact area law enforcement,” he said. “We will investigate any reports we are given and hopefully with community awareness we can locate and arrest these criminals.”Copper is not only being stolen, in most cases it is being stripped of its protective coating, Captain McWilliams said. This is usually done through a method known as “burning copper.” The criminals will ignite the wire in metallic barrels and warm the coating of the wire until it melts or can be pulled off.“We have seen very crude and very elaborate setups for burning copper through our investigations,” he said. “Burning wire has an odor and produces heavy smoke. Most of the burning is occurring at night and in rural areas of the county in hopes of masking the odor and smoke.”In some of the more elaborate setups, Captain McWilliams said officials have discovered garages with large wood burning stoves linked to a filtration system. This allows the copper to be burnt in a residential area.“Citizens are asked to be on the lookout for large amounts of wire sheathing, usually lying near a location where it has been ‘burned,’” he said.Any information can be forwarded to area law enforcement officials or can be called in to Crime Stoppers.