Squirrel causes power outage in Highlands

Citizens on the west side of Highlands woke up on the morning of July 5 with no power.

Did the incredible fireworks that reverberated through town even after the official display was over cause the outage?

Did a vehicle hit a pole somewhere on the grid?

Calls were logged with the county, which notified the town.

A lineman was sent out to find out what went wrong and it didn’t take long to discover why the power went out.

“A squirrel became deceased at 62 Oak Lane,” reported Public Service Director Lamar Nix. “As Joe Allison was patrolling the line looking for the fault, one of the Sanitation Department employees reported having found said squirrel at the base of the pole. The pole had a transformer on it and apparently the squirrel put himself in harm’s way and was electrocuted, thus blowing the fuse and causing the outage.”

Powerline pole at the intersection of Oak Lane and Oak Road near where the squirrel met its demise.

Evidently, across the nation and in fact worldwide, squirrels are the king of power outages.

Squirrels have front teeth that grow continuously and to keep them in check the animals develop a chewing habit. As they traverse the power lines, they put their chewing prowess into action, creating the possibility of exposing wires – which is why young squirrels are usually safe from electrocution.

According to the American Public Power Association (APPA), squirrels were the cause of more than 15,000 animal-related outages last year.

When they scamper through the treetops and over roads using powerlines as roadways, if they make inappropriate contact with a power line, a conductor or other high voltage equipment, they are often electrocuted which brings down the power grid.

“It happens more than you would think,” said Nix.

A squirrel can disrupt a power system if its body becomes a current path between electrical lines.

Typically, the animal is killed by the passage of current through its body. Prevention is complicated by the ability of squirrels to bypass plastic animal guards, gnaw through insulation and squeeze through small openings into substations.

“Years ago in Highlands, this was a common problem, but breakers and squirrel guards have cut the problems down,” said Nix. “But not every line can have a breaker, and we haven’t got squirrel guards on all the transformers yet.”

According to APPA, there are two peak periods of highest squirrel activity each year, May–June and October–November. This is when squirrel related disruptions are the greatest. 

Storms still cause longer and larger outages, but squirrels are responsible for the greatest number of power outages in the country.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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