Electricity 3, Squirrels 0

Squirrel and Electrical power lines
It was an unlucky day for three squirrels and hundreds of Midwestern power customers.

Classes were back in session Tuesday at a community college in Godfrey, Ill., a day after a squirrel's gnawing into an electric service line disrupted service.

Officials say the squirrel knocked out voicemail, electricity and computer services Monday morning at Lewis and Clark Community College, forcing the school's main campus to close.

Brian Elwood, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, said a squirrel in Ashland, Wis., came in contact with an overhead transformer and knocked out service to 177 customers Monday. Power was fully restored in just under an hour, and repair crews found the remains of the "unfortunate squirrel," he said.

By coincidence, another squirrel got into a substation 40 miles away in Ironwood, Mich., Monday morning and caused a temporary outage that affected about 1,400 customers in Ironwood and two nearby communities, Elwood said.

The utility takes many preventive steps to keep the curious animals away from lines, he said, but they are one of the leading causes of outages, trailing only severe weather.

"We kind of liken it to anyone who's had a bird feeder and tried to keep the squirrels out," he said. "They find a way."

Rodney Johnson was stuck on an elevator at Ashland's Enterprise Center, where he works, when the power went out.

"For a couple of minutes there, I wasn't sure if I'd make it to Thanksgiving," said Johnson, who said he is somewhat claustrophobic. "They kept talking to me while they were trying to open it up, though, so that helped."

Once a firefighter opened the door, Johnson wasted no time in getting out.

"I'm surprised I didn't knock him down," he said.