LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. (AP) -- Three deaths in a four-day span in July and several other close calls have brought increased scrutiny to electrical wiring on boat docks at the Lake of the Ozarks, much of which was installed decades ago by non-professionals.
Electricians in the southwest Missouri lake region are in demand as owners of property around the lake -- especially older homes and resort complexes -- scramble to ensure their docks are safe for the thousands of people who annually take to the water to beat the summer heat.
The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/MmuKBT) reports fire marshals also are swamped with inspections, hardware stores are running out of electrical supplies, and fire departments and Missouri Highway Patrol are urging people to make sure their docks are safe.
"There's been a call to action," said Trish Creach, executive director of the Camdenton Area Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of people are getting a fast-track education."
Alexandra Anderson, 13, and her brother Brayden, 8, both of Ashland, were killed on the Fourth of July in the Gravois Arm of the lake, and Jennifer Lankford, 26, was killed July 7 at the Dry Branch Cove.
In both cases, there were no ground fault circuit interrupters -- which help prevent shock -- in place to shut power down in an electrical emergency.
Several other people have received non-fatal electrical jolts at the lake.
Fire officials and electricians said most docks at the lake were wired 30 or 40 years ago, often by novices.
The need for dock electricity has increased over the years as it is used to power boat lifts, lights, televisions and even mini refrigerators.
With no building codes in place, people at the lake didn't have to properly ground their docks or install a power shut-off. Many used wiring not durable enough for outdoor use.
Ameren Missouri, an electrical utility that owns the lake and operates the Bagnell Dam, recently sent letters to more than 20,000 property owners informing them of electrical risks and reminding them it is their responsibility to get docks inspected and to have necessary work done by qualified electricians.
Ameren's shoreline manager, Jeff Green, said it wasn't until 2006 that rules were put in place requiring new or refurbished docks to pass an electrical inspection. Structures built before that aren't covered, though owners of older docks are encouraged to get those structures inspected.
Green said this summer's heat wave is putting more people on the water, meaning more waves and more stress on old wiring.
Adam Rohwer, fire marshal for the Rocky Mount Fire Protection District, said his knees were sore from climbing steps on so many docks he inspected last week.
He said one dock that had all kinds of lights, a tiki bar and flat-screen television, had a 100-amp breaker box, big enough to provide electricity for an entire house.
"The guy had a $200,000 Sea Ray cruiser sitting there and not a single GFI (ground fault interrupter)," Rohwer said.
When asked how many of the docks he had inspected that day were electrically safe, he said without pause, "None of them."
Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, which serves the lake area, is aware of the years of shoddy work. But a spokesman said the cooperative's authority ends at the electrical meter.
"There's nothing we can do beyond that," John Agliata said. "We can't upgrade the docks. That's up to the property owners, and they need to be doing it because we're talking life and death."
Capt. Tim Hull of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's water patrol division, shared the same frustration.
"We're responding to a lot more incidents this summer, but we can't enforce building codes," Hull said.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com