If you were standing near the intersection of Longhorn and McLane roads Monday morning, you may have witnessed a blinding flash of light, a black ball of smoke ascending into the air, and detected the faint smell of something like burnt chicken.
A large raven made its way past bird protection devices at the Payson APS substation, causing a short circuit that cut power to approximately 20,000 area homes and businesses.
"We have guards in place called raptor covers," said Jerry Hawkins, construction supervisor with Arizona Public Service who was on the scene Monday. "They're red plastic covers that go between the energized conductors to insulate them from the ground, but this bird somehow squeezed in."
Hawkins said customers were affected from Tonto Basin to Payson and north to Starlight Pines in Blue Ridge.
"Our equipment did exactly what it was supposed to do when the bird got in there," Hawkins said.
The outage shut down traffic signals throughout town and stalled businesses and schools during the start of a busy new week.
"It caused some delays in taking attendance," said Laura Pederson, administrative secretary at Payson Elementary School. "Our computers (connected to the phone systems) were down and we weren't able to use the phones to find out why some children were absent. We kept the children outside and just handled it."
For most of Payson, the power was only out from about 7:30 to 8:05 a.m.
"There was a slight delay in restoring all service so we could verify that nothing was damaged, and it was OK to re-energize the equipment," Hawkins said.
While students probably didn't mind, the wait seemed longer for restaurant workers holding breakfast orders, residents unable to open electric garage doors and employees staring at blank computer screens.
"This was a pretty major incident," said Jan Parsons, APS manager of customer service for Gila-Navajo. "We had everything but the east feeder out, probably close to 20,000 customers. This just shows how quickly the Payson crews scrambled to find the problem and restore power."
The wayward bird made what is called a "phase to ground contact," sending 12,000 volts of electricity through its body.
"Electricity always tries to find its way to ground," Parsons said. "That's why birds on wires don't get hurt, because the electrons are basically flowing right through them.
"But this bird was standing on a structure that had contact with the earth. He came into contact with a piece of energized electrical equipment. The electricity followed the path to the ground and killed the bird. There probably was a flash of light like a lightning bolt."
Parsons explained that APS has an extensive wildlife protection program.
"We try to protect the birds but we also try to avoid exactly what happened this morning, a power outage," Parsons said. "The raven is not a raptor, but they're probably the ones that give us the most problems."
All the new lines have raptor protection, Hawkins said. "We also retrofit 50 (existing) poles each year."
To learn more about the APS wildlife protection program, visit www.aps.com/my_community/Environmental/Environmental_10.html
If you see a large bird or other animal regularly using an APS power pole or substation in your neighborhood, call (800) 253-9405. Trained linemen will determine what protective actions should be taken.