Power outage hits Whatcom County Jail, downtown Bellingham

A small animal chewed through an electrical line near the Whatcom County Jail on Sunday morning, March 20, causing an explosion and small fire and cutting power to the jail and a small area of downtown Bellingham.

“A critter had eaten through the lines, which caused it to blow an arrestor,” said Terri-Ann Betancourt, spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy. Power lines dropped across Prospect Street near Central Avenue, she said.

A small fire was reported near the base of a utility pole about 9:55 a.m. Sunday and the Bellingham Fire Department was dispatched, but officials didn’t return a phone call.

Prospect Street was reported blocked in both directions.

Betancourt said she didn’t know what kind of animal caused the blackout, but it was killed in the incident.

By 2:30 p.m., power had been restored to all but seven customers in the area, and Betancourt said those customers were scheduled to have power restored shortly. Some 590 customers lost power initially, she said.

Sheriff Bill Elfo said the jail and sheriff’s offices were using a backup generator for electricity and cells were secured using keys rather than the automatic mechanisms. Elfo said the outage had minimal impact on jail operations, because court is not in session on Sundays and fewer bookings are made.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-715-2805, @bhamMitty