The morning of October 19 started off a bit unusually for employees at the Bonneville Power Administration’s Shelton Substation, about 20 miles northwest of Olympia, Washington. A young bear cub was in the vicinity and when county sheriff’s department staff went to capture the little guy, the cub was so frightened that he jumped the substation fence and perched atop energized high-voltage electrical equipment.
"We saw the little guy on our security cameras and were getting really nervous as he strolled through an area charged with 230,000 volts of electricity,” said Joel Myer, spokesman for Mason County Public Utility District No. 3, the local utility served by the BPA substation.
Quick-thinking substation operator Bob Armanino contacted BPA’s control center in Vancouver, Wash., which promptly de-energized the 230-kilovolt equipment, saving the bear’s life.
“Quick action by Bob and the dispatch center not only saved the bear’s life, but prevented the potential for a great deal of damage to the equipment,” said Chief Substation Operator Kevin Yowell.
The story doesn’t end there. The frightened bear cub then climbed to the top of a pole and jumped into a nearby tree. No amount of coaxing by four sheriff’s deputies and members of BPA’s electrician crew would make the bear come down. He ended up spending the night high above the substation at the very top of the tree.
The next day, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, who know a thing or two about bears, set a trap complete with donuts as bait. The cub eventually succumbed to temptation and was soon captured.
“I’ve worked in and around substations for many years, and this is a first for me,” Yowell said. “I guess the taste of a fresh Krispy Kreme was undeniably strong for the little guy.”
About a week later, the roughly 40-pound bear cub, affectionately named Sparky by the staff at Mason County PUD 3, was one of three cubs taken to Idaho Black Bear Rehab near Boise. IBBR reports that Sparky is at a good weight now, his coat is in excellent condition and he’s socializing well with other bears.