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Squirrel in Bend substation causes power outage that affected 18,000 Pacific Power customers, many for hours

(Update: Adding video, comments from businesses, Pacific Power)

Some heard a 'boom' - 'it can happen - squirrels are nosy'; cause of several outages over the years

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A squirrel at the downtown Bend Pacific Power substation caused a large power outage that hit much of Bend on Thursday morning, affecting more than 18,000 customers, some for several hours, while knocking out traffic lights and pausing or shifting much of business and daily life.

The outage was reported around 8:40 a.m. and power began being restored around 9:20 a.m., starting with about 2,000 customers in northern Bend and the Hunters Circle area. The outage number was down to about 5,500 customers by 9:45 a.m. and was down to about 5,000 in the late morning. They all had power back just after noon.

Despite the outage, life -- and business -- went on, for many.

At Mockingbird Gallery in downtown Bend, owner Jim Peterson said, "In the meantime, I've got my my phone and I've got artists that I'm going to be communicating with today on some projects, and a couple of clients that that I'm waiting on phone calls from. So it's not all lost. "

But over at Sidelines Sports Bar and Grill, the business day pretty much came to a halt.

Sidelines bartender Rachael Davis said, "Well, 'A', not only having to have customers leave, but then when power turns out, people avoid the places they know the power is out, because they're not sure power is on. So I expect it to be a little slower, until people know that power is back on downtown."

And when you're mostly in a big, dark and windowless room -- like The Riverhouse Convention Center, home this week to the International Snow Science Workshop, drawing hundreds from around the world -- the temporary solution is somewhat obvious: You move the discussion outdoors, on a sunny and not-too-cold day.

Pacific Power spokesman Simon Gutierrez said the official cause was "animal interference," but that a squirrel was found at the substation by Mirror Pond and is "suspect No. 1."

"It can happen - squirrels are nosy," Gutierrez said.

He added, "After some investigation, crews found a squirrel inside the Bend plant substation. Our hypothesis right now is that the squirrel interfered with some electrical equipment, causing a fault, and that was the source of the outage."

It's far from the first time that's happened in Bend.

A few examples: In June 2014, a squirrel met an untimely demise at the same substation, causing an outage that knocked out power to more than 5,100 customers in the area.

"A most unfortunate squirrel" at the Cleveland Avenue substation knocked out power to 4,700 customers in July of 2018.

And in April 2021, a squirrel damaged a power line, causing a blown fuse at the downtown substation and an outage for more than 1,400 Pacific Power customers, including downtown Bend businesses.

Some people heard what sounded like an explosion at the downtown substation by Mirror Pond when the power went out. Crews were soon working at the substation to determine what went wrong and make any needed repairs.

Bend-La Pine Schools sent a BLConnect note to parents and others about the outage “affecting multiple schools,” including Amity Creek Magnet, Highland, Juniper and Ponderosa elementary schools and Pilot Butte Middle School. “Safety systems are functioning,” they said.

Two hours after the outage hit, only Amity Creek and Highland magnet schools still were without power, while other schools had their power restored.

Deschutes County Circuit Courts sent notice they would be closed until 2 p.m. due to the outage.

Article Topic Follows: Accidents and Crashes

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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