By Paula Ebben

READING (CBS) – You’ve probably noticed, squirrels seem to be everywhere. Usually that’s a problem just for the squirrels, often being hit by cars. But the critters can also hit close to home, knocking out power. And that meant utility crews on the North Shore had a busy weekend.

“It was Sunday morning. I woke up and went to turn the lights on and they wouldn’t go on,” says Kristie from Wilmington. The problem was caused by a squirrel that had short-circuited an area of the town, cutting off electricity to homes on half a dozen streets. “I see them on the lines all the time, but never really thought about what could happen,” Kristie adds.

squirrel Squirrels Blamed For North Shore Power Outages

Squirrel on utility pole in Reading (WBZ-TV)

John McDonagh thinks about what can happen all the time. He’s the general line foreman for the Reading Municipal Light Department which provides power to Wilmington, Reading, North Reading and Lynnfield. “Animal contact is the third largest for outages in our area,” he says.

McDonagh showed WBZ what a squirrel can do when it climbs on a transformer mounted on a telephone pole. “Many times a squirrel or any type of animal will be standing on the transformer. He’ll reach up to the top and put his nose right up to the primary bushing tap where he’ll cause a short circuit. That’ll create an outage in the neighborhood and everyone goes dark,” he says. It usually kills the animal as well.

squirrel2 Squirrels Blamed For North Shore Power Outages

Squirrel on utility pole in Reading (WBZ-TV)

Reading Municipal has had 20 outages this year caused by critters, which is down from about 100 six years ago. National Grid says animal related outages are also down.

But EverSource tells WBZ their animal related outages are higher than they’ve been in the last five years. The utilities are taking action, like putting squirrel guards on transformers. “It keeps them from touching the primary bushing and causing a short-circuit,” McDonagh says.

squirrelguard Squirrels Blamed For North Shore Power Outages

Squirrel guard on transformer (WBZ-TV)

But the guard can get knocked loose by storms or tree branches, so it’s a constant maintenance struggle. And you know those large transformers mounted on the ground for underground wires? Well, mice and even snakes can get inside them and cause an outage as well.

So why are there so many squirrels? An expert at the State Division of Wildlife told us there was plenty of food form them over the winter. That means squirrels emerged in the spring healthy, and ready to breed.

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