MEDDYBEMPS (AP) – Copper prices have grown so fast over the past year that thieves have broken into electric substations to steal copper grounding wire. They’ve also been swiping copper from scrapyards.

Over the past few weeks, thieves have even broken into homes and ripped copper pipes right out of the walls, police said.

Michael Povich, district attorney for Washington and Hancock counties, said there were similar incidents about 15 years ago. “It’s a reflection of the economy; copper is valuable right now,” he said.

Copper prices have more than doubled over the past year on the commodities market. Current prices range from $1.95 to $2.15 per pound.

In Maine, four people were arrested on Sunday and Monday in two incidents involving the attempted theft of copper from a Washington County junkyard.

In May, Maine’s two largest electric utilities were hit by thieves who broke into substations to steal copper grounding wire. Several thousand customers lost electricity while crews repaired the damage.

In Vermont, a thief who took $60 worth of copper from a Central Vermont Public Service Corp. power substation is believed to have suffered a jolt. Investigators found scorch marks on the ground where the thief had been working to remove grounding wires.

Unloading the scrap isn’t necessarily an easy task.

Brian McAvoy, general manager for Industrial Metal Recycling in Bangor, said Wednesday that his company works with police. He also said the company tries to be careful about the source of the metal it buys.

Another measure his company takes is to issue a check for anything more than $100. That leaves a paper trail for police.

Povich said investigators takes thefts seriously.

“These are serious property crimes. It makes no difference what you’re stealing,” he said. “What we look at is the value. Stuff over $1,000 fair market value – doesn’t matter if it’s copper wire, a stove or money. Property is property.”

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