A squirrel was responsible for more than 12,500 NYSEG customers in Erie County going without power for approximately two hours Sunday afternoon.
The rodent disrupted service at the Lancaster substation, which triggered two other substations going down, according to NYSEG.
A spokesperson said the squirrel did not cause the outage by traveling on the power lines, but that the animal "made contact with two energized units" inside a control house. That took out the power (and the squirrel).
The NYSEG website reported that 12,750 customers in Erie County were without services at around 1 p.m. Most of those outages were in Lancaster, Depew and Alden.
A NYSEG spokesperson said power had been restored to all three substations just after 3 p.m.
There were no explosions or any fire due to the squirrel.
"The squirrel did damage to equipment in the substation he was in, but the system worked the way it was designed to," said Rachel Buchanan of the NYSEG Public Affairs office. "It shut itself down when it saw trouble. That’s why it took longer to bring the one substation back on. We had to fix what the squirrel broke."
Squirrels are a leading cause of power outages. In 2016, a survey by the American Public Power Association said that wildlife, notably squirrels, were the leading cause of power outages, followed by failure of overhead equipment, weather and vegetation.
The APPA reported that in 2016, utilities reported 3,456 outages "caused by the ubiquitous rodents" that cut off power to more than 193,873 customers.
The Town of Lancaster and Village of Depew were the hardest hit by Sunday's outage, as NYSEG reported that 4,356 of the 4,962 total customers in that area were without power.
Lancaster was part of an area in which traffic lights were affected; the town's Office of Emergency Management tweeted to motorists a reminder that intersections with signal outages should be treated as four-way stops.
A widespread power outage is affecting Alden, Cheektowaga, Clarence Depew, Lancaster Town and Lancaster Village. Use caution on area roadways, treat all signalized intersections as 4-way stops.
— Lancaster OEM (@LancasterOEM) November 18, 2018
Alden included a significant amount of outages, with all 1,337 village customers without power and 2,107 of 2,609 town residents.
There were also outages reported in Clarence, Cheektowaga and Marilla.
The outage affected 8.5 percent of NYSEG's 150,812 customers in Erie County.
NYSEG, which restored power shortly after 3 p.m., originally estimated that power would be returned to all areas in the 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. range.