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Wayward squirrel sparks Bend brushfire, outage

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Sep 08 2013 11:32:54 PM CDT
Brushfire near Bend Athletic Club

Chris Justema

Chris Justema of Cascade Lakes Brewing says firefighters were quick to respond to a small brushfire and power outage on Bend's Westside Sunday that was traced to a squirrel that "grounded out" a live wire atop a pole

BEND, Ore. -

A Bend squirrel who picked a poor power-line perch paid the price Sunday morning – and his demise sparked a brushfire that wound up knocking out power to hundreds of residents on the city’s Westside for up to four hours, officials said.

Bend Fire and Rescue responded shortly before 10 a.m. to reports of an explosion in the area of the Athletic Club of Bend, possibly an electrical transformer, and a resulting brushfire, said Capt. Mike King.

Crews arrived to find a small brushfire, about 500 square feet – but soon, a burning tree caused a live power line to fail and fall to the ground, King said. The fire was put out, from a safe distance, and the area flagged off until Pacific Power crews could arrive.

Firefighters stood by until the utility could confirm the downed wire was de-energized. They then mopped up the small brushfire and confirmed the power company did not need further assistance, King said.

Pacific Power spokesman Bob Gravely said about 530 customers at first lost power, but a total of 1,090 had to be cut off so emergency repair crews could fix the line, and it took until about 2 p.m. for all power to be restored.

King said the “evidence on scene suggests a squirrel was on top of the power pole near the (fire) and ‘grounded out a live wire on top of the pole.”

“Burning material then dropped to the ground, igniting the brushfire,” he said. “The fire spread to a nearby tree, and the burning tree caused the failure of a 7,200-volt power line.

“Unfortunately,” King added, “the squirrel did not survive.”

The fire captain said the incident served as “a reminder to be very cautious when fire is in or near electrical equipment. Wire can and do fall and drop to the ground, and assume downed wires or in-ground transformers are energized until cleared by the appropriate utility company.”

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