Squirrel scampers blamed for Ft. Meade blackouts

Special transformer covers being installed

FT. MEADE, Fla. - Since being blamed for more than two dozen power outages during the last year, squirrels have led the city of Ft. Meade to take measures not only to protect their lines, but the furry animals as well.

Numerous dead squirrels were showing up around Circuit 5, the row of power lines closest to trees, and thus the most vulnerable to squirrel scampers.  Ft. Meade engineers have been installing plastic, basket-like covers for the transformers on the power poles, effectively keeping the animals away from danger.

"Before we started installing these, we could have gone in business selling squirrel soup," said Kenny Holt, an electrical engineer with Ft. Meade's utility service.   

"You can sometimes see the squirrels still on top of the transformer, or lying on the ground next to the pole," Holt said.  

The animals were getting shocked with 7200 volts, more than enough to kill them easily.  And the result led to blackouts for customers, sometimes hundreds at a time.

"I just didn't think a squirrel could go make the lights go out," said Ron Martin, a Ft. Meade resident of 40 years.  "They're just tiny little things."

Residents living near the power lines said squirrels are a regular sight on the poles, especially in the morning.  

"I see them playing in the trees and our dog chases them," said Crystal Sellers, who's son enjoyed watching the animals walk the "tightrope."  

Ft. Meade's problem is one of many throughout the Bay area.  In February, a single squirrel knocked out power to 500,000 customers in Tampa, leading to a boil water alert for several days.
 

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