BLUEFIELD — Thousands of residents across the two Bluefields and Route 460 area were without electricity Monday morning after a squirrel ventured too close to an Appalachian Power Company substation.
The outage occurred around 10 a.m. and electricity was restored at 11:20 a.m., said Phillip Moye, a spokesman for Appalachian Power.
More than 3,000 Appalachian Power customers lost service, Moye said. The bulk of the outage was in West Virginia, but some residents and businesses in Bluefield, Va., were affected as well, he said.
Wal-Mart in Bluefield, Va., shut it doors during the interruption of service. “If the power is off for an extended length of time, we do have to close,” Manager Teresa Harrison said.
The Bluefield Police Department dispatched officers to areas where stop lights were not working, Sgt. D.M. Dillow said.
“We had some calls from people just concerned about what was going on, but no problems,” Dillow said.
The power outage occurred when the squirrel touched an energized piece of equipment while part of its body was still on the ground, resulting in a ground fault circuit interruption, Moye said.
“Electricity will flow through its body,” he said. With energized equipment on one side and the ground on the other, “electricity will use the squirrel to find a path to the ground.”
When this occurred, it activated Appalachian Power’s safety system. “The safety device on that equipment identifies a ground fault, and it trips the equipment off-line as a safety precaution,” Moye said.
Appalachian Power crews then had to make sure the ground fault was caused by the animal and check equipment for any damages, he said.
While Appalachian Power installs animal guards on equipment to prevent outages, it is difficult to “totally stop” such incidents, Moye said.
“We make efforts to keep animals from getting around energized equipment, but, obviously, today one snuck by our defenses,” he said.
Squirrels and snakes are the animals that commonly cause such outages, but a bird will occasional disrupt service as well, Moye said.
Moye said animal-related outages do not occur frequently, but “people tend to remember them because it’s unusual.”
The squirrel did not survive Monday’s incident.
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