ROCK HILL, S.C. — For the second time in just weeks, a snake is to blame Thursday night for a power outage that left thousands in the dark.
It happened when a black rat snake crawled into a power substation Thursday night off Anderson Road.
The city of Rock Hill gave Channel 9 two surveillance pictures with one showing the snake inside the fence just after 7 p.m. and the other showing the snake beneath the power equipment about 1 hour 40 minutes later.
Utilities director Mike Jolly said the snake crawled up a support pole and touched an insulator about 15 feet off the ground. It was likely killed instantly.
"That's a very quick, explosive type incident," Jolly said. "Usually animals don't survive.”
Roughly 6,400 homes and businesses in north and central Rock Hill lost power for about 1 hour.
Craig Peterson was one of them.
"You're wondering what to do. There's no radio, no TV, no lights to read by. At least it was about bedtime," he said.
Peterson is from Buffalo, New York and before moving to the south, never heard of anything like a snake shutting down a power station.
"It's kind of an unusual thing. I guess I wonder why the snakes like the electricity," he said.
Jolly said it's likely snakes are after birds and nests that often sit atop power substations. Black rat snakes are skilled climbers and will scale trees to find nests.
City crews have installed owl decoys to try and keep the birds away but snakes are more difficult to deter.
"We've used all kinds of sprays and scents, and granular products around the stations. Those did not really provide the kind of protection we were looking for," Jolly said.
The latest trick is plastic netting-like a mesh that attaches behind the chain link fence. It surrounds the whole complex, and catches some snakes, but clearly, not all.
"We have found some stuck in the fence at times, but it's not perfect," Jolly said.
Another outage happened only two weeks ago, when two snakes got in on the other side of the same station, which is run by Duke Energy.
The Huey Street substation is about to be torn down and rebuilt. The new station will have caps over some of the parts, designed to keep critters from making contact with them.
Officials said the insulator damaged Thursday night only cost a few hundred dollars to replace.
Snakes, birds and squirrels have damaged major pieces of equipment in the past costing $30,000 to replace.
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