Power lines fall and block I-5 through Bellingham, while 5,180 lose electricity

Southbound lanes of Interstate 5 through Bellingham were blocked for less than an hour Wednesday night after power lines fell on the freeway near the pedestrian bridge south of the Sunset Drive exit.

The Washington State Patrol received first reports of the lines across southbound lanes near milepost 255 at approximately 7:40 p.m., Trooper Heather Axtman told The Bellingham Herald.

At approximately the same time, Puget Sound Energy reported approximately 5,180 customers lost power in northeast Bellingham.

“The cause of the outage was equipment failure that caused some lines to go down,” PSE spokesperson Andrew Padula told The Bellingham Herald. “What caused the equipment to fail is still unknown and under investigation.”

The State Patrol received reports that power was out along Sunset Drive from I-5 to Hannegan Road, Axtman said.

First reports said that cars were driving through the downed power lines on the freeway, Axtman said, before southbound lanes were closed.

Bellingham Fire Department crews were originally dispatched to a substation in the 400 block of East Illinois Street, Captain Dave Pethick told The Herald, but upon hearing about the line over I-5, two engines were diverted to assist on the freeway.

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Pethick said fire crews did not find any issues at the substation, but a battalion chief did locate downed wires behind Sunnyland Elementary.

PSE crews arrived on scene at 8:10 p.m., Axtman said, and by 8:23 p.m. the roadway had been cleared, though PSE crews remained to clean up.

The Washington State Department of Transportation also was called to check the pedestrian bridge for damaged concrete from the line falling, Axtman said.

Axtman said the report was not clear how the lines came down on the freeway, though callers reported seeing a black SUV — possibly a Chevrolet Suburban — hit a power pole in the area.

“This is one of the odd ones,” Axtman said. “Generally, if you hit a power pole with enough force to bring it down, your car is not going to be driveable, so for us not to have a car is strange.”

Padula said crews were able to reroute power and had restored power to all customers by 9:22 p.m.

Padula said Wednesday’s power outage and the upcoming fall storm season were the perfect time to suggest customers:

Stay away from any downed power lines they encounter and call 911 or PSE to report the problem.

Download the PSE app to their phones so they can report outages and get updates on when power might be restored.

Always use flashlights instead of candles for light when the power does go out.

Never use an outdoor barbecue or gas grill inside a home as a heating or cooking source.

WSDOT did not respond to requests for information regarding the incident.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.