An electrical surge caused by copper thieves led to a power cut for almost 400 properties in Bolton and some household appliances catching fire.
United Utilities said a vital copper safety component, worth just £20, was stolen from a sub-station which resulted in the power cut.
No-one was injured, but within the space of three hours firefighters were called to 71 related incidents.
A spokesman for the energy firm said: "Power should be restored soon."
A Greater Manchester Fire Service spokesman confirmed that the 71 incidents they were called out to were all caused by the power surge.
"Of those attended, 48 resulted in damage to electrical equipment, including fuse boxes, televisions and washing machines," he said.
"There were no injuries from the incidents and no substantial fire damage but some properties were damaged by smoke."
May Wilkinson, 65, and her husband Albert Knight, 70, live on Southfield Drive in the affected area.
The couple's television and microwave were damaged by the power surge.
Mrs Wilkinson said: "I saw smoke coming out of my digi-box and I jumped up quick and turned off the box at the plug.
"Shortly afterwards my husband was in the kitchen and he saw a huge flame come out of the microwave. It frightened him to death."
The theft of the component, which is under investigation by police, caused the normal 230 voltage to surge to 400 volts.
A United Utilities spokesman added: "We want to stress that the copper stolen had such a small monetary value.
"Anyone going into a sub-station is risking their lives.
"There are thousands of volts in the sub-station and if someone takes a wrong turn, then they could be dead, and it just isn't worth the risk."