Power outage hits Bellingham Saturday afternoon



A tree branch crossed the power lines at Grant Street and Carolina Street causing the tree to ignite and a subsequent power outage in Bellingham on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 3, 2009.


A tree branch that fell onto a transmission line in the 500 block of Carolina Street caused 4,800 people to lose power in Bellingham Saturday afternoon, Oct. 3.

The branch fell onto the line at about 2:45 p.m. and severed the power flow to a Puget Sound Energy substation in the Lettered Streets neighborhood. Customers who get electricity from that substation lost power, said Gretchen Aliabadi, a PSE spokeswoman.

The utility restored power to about 800 people by routing them electricity from other substations, Aliabadi said.

Crews are working to remove the branch, which likely was blown onto the line by wind, and after they perform some safety checks power should be restored Saturday evening, Aliabadi said.

Power was out in the Sunnyland neighborhood and areas in northwest Bellingham and into downtown, which has caused some traffic lights to stop working, said Sgt. David Richards of the Bellingham Police Department.

Intersections without a working stoplight legally become four-way stops, and drivers are supposed to proceed through them with caution, Richards said.

“Vehicles just have to be very careful because it becomes an uncontrolled intersection,” Richards said.

Richards said a tree-trimming company had crews working to cut the top half of the tree down Saturday evening and will cut the remaining parts down Sunday.

When the branch first fell onto the lines, power went out briefly citywide. This is because the grid system recognized that something was wrong and opened its breakers, which stopped power from flowing entirely, Aliabadi said.

Once the system performed necessary safety checks, the breakers closed and power was restored, Aliabadi said.

Boyd Collings, who lives in the 400 block of Carolina Street, said he first started hearing a buzzing sound in the area as he walked to breakfast at about 10:30 a.m.

“I didn’t pay attention because I couldn’t see anything,” Collings said.

Neighbors reported hearing an explosion at about 2:30 p.m., and went out of their homes to see the tree igniting in flames.

Firefighters arrived shortly after and extinguished the fire, which left the tree with blackened burn marks all the way to its trunk.

“It was loud — easily as loud as anything I hear from the stadium or my stereo,” Collings said. “It was almost like lightning was running up and down the trunk.”

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