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Bend power back after squirrel sparks major outage

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Jun 11 2014 11:12:46 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 11 2014 12:35:29 PM CDT
Power outage traffic light
BEND, Ore. -

A squirrel met an untimely demise at the Pacific Power substation near Mirror Pond Wednesday morning, and the resulting power outage affected a broad swath of downtown and other areas of Bend for nearly two hours, knocking out traffic lights and broadcast towers and causing a half-day delay in a murder trial.

The outage occurred around 8 a.m. at the utility’s substation near Mirror Pond, causing a flash and boom heard by many in the downtown area, said Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt.

More than 5,100 customers lost power, but that number was down to about 1,500 in less than an hour as repair crews worked to isolate, then solve the problem. All power was back by about 9:45 a.m., Gauntt said.

The utility's Oregon outage update site listed the blackout's cause as "animal interference."

“The squirrel did not survive,” Gauntt said, noting that it’s a frequent issue with power supplies around the country.

The outage hit much of Bend’s downtown and Westside, blacking out businesses and government offices, while also knocking out transmission towers atop Awbrey Butte that serve several radio and TV stations, including NewsChannel 21.

Traffic lights were out in the busy downtown area, forcing drivers to treat intersections as four-way stops.

The outage hit, among other places, the Deschutes County Courthouse, resulting in a postponement until noon of the start of the Luke Wirkkala murder trial, on a day when the defendant is expected to take the stand in his claim the fatal shooting of David Ryder was in self-defense.

Squirrels, birds and other small animals -- as well as tree limbs and branches -- can get into power equipment and touch two lines that are meant to be kept apart, Gauntt said.

"Get one claw on one line and other on another, and you just connected the lines that we keep apart," he said.

Technology has made some progress in tackling the bird problem, but "squirrels are a bit harder," Gauntt said. "They run along those wires with amazing agility. Unfortunately, get just a little claw in there, and they form the connection between two lines, which causes the jump, the arc and the pop."

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