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Squirrel cuts power with live wire act
Willoughby Mariano Sentinel Staff Writer Posted June 13, 2001
About 3,000 people were without power and several traffic lights were out during Tuesday morning`s rush hour, all thanks to a squirrel`s fleeting encounter with a Kissimmee Utility Authority transformer.
The outage occurred just before 8:40 a.m. when a jumping squirrel at a KUA substation touched its tail against a high-voltage wire as its paws landed on a transformer box.
That last leap turned the fuzzy animal into a surrogate electrical wire and caused a short that took out power across a mile-long stretch of John Young Parkway between Carroll and Vine streets, said KUA spokesman Chris Gent.
Bermuda Lakes homemaker Sheila Quinones, 32, said her power went out just as her 3-month-old son, Nicholas, began crying for his bottle.
"I called my husband at his work and screamed, `Did you pay the electricity this month?` " Quinones said. She couldn`t warm her son`s bottle or turn on the lights, and for a few minutes, she couldn`t even call the electric company. She uses cordless telephones that require electricity.
"I had to dig out an old-fashioned one from the closet," Quinones said. "Because of a squirrel."
Power to most residents was restored by 9 a.m.
Gent said power failures caused by wayward animals become more common during the rainy season, when food is plentiful and many creatures spend much their days climbing trees and utility poles in search of it.
When animals touch a single electrical wire at a time they`re fine. But squirrels with long, bushy tails sometimes touch two, causing a fatal shock.
"You can die from the voltage in a single Christmas light," said Gent, who estimated that the rodent culprit of Tuesday`s outage was shot through with 63,000 volts of electricity at the moment of his death. The average house lamp carries .037 volts.
Though she felt sorry for the dead squirrel, Sarah Abramowitz said she was miffed that its folly nearly led her into an accident at U.S. Highway 192 and John Young Parkway. The signals were out, confusing drivers and causing a Honda to nearly plow into her.
"I`ve never been almost killed because of a dead squirrel before," Abramowitz said. "I guess there`s a first for everything."
The KUA spokesman, who was maintaining a sense of humor about the power failure, said residents should count themselves lucky. Squirrels fried by high voltage wires become stiff with rigor mortis almost immediately, Gent said, and KUA has in the past gotten reports of damage caused by stiff falling squirrels.
"Having a live squirrel drop on your windshield is one thing," Gent said. "But having a dead one is another. It`s like dropping a brick through a window."
-- Doris (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 13, 2001
Sometimes a bushy tail will cause a problem.
-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), June 14, 2001.