Electrocuted hawk causes fire that burned eight acres

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008

By Staff
Squirrels and fire ants among animals known to cause power outages
Staff Writer
A hawk that made a “serious error in judgment” is being blamed for starting a wildfire near Pamlico Beach on Sunday evening, according to a Beaufort County official.
The hawk’s mistake came when it apparently made contact with power lines, John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency management coordinator, said Monday. The hawk was electrocuted, caught on fire and fell to the ground, causing the wildfire, Pack said. The fire, which started at about 5:30 p.m., consumed about eight acres before firefighters with Belhaven, Sidney and Pantego volunteer fire departments contained the blaze, he said.
Firefighters followed a dirt lane to the fire scene near 781 Pamlico Beach Road, Pack said. Unaware of what caused the fire, firefighters worked to make sure it didn’t spread to a nearby marsh and house. The fire was from 50 to 100 feet of the residence when firefighters arrived, Pack said.
Once the fire was extinguished, firefighters searched for its source. Pack, who arrived at the fire scene shortly before the blaze was contained, said he noticed electricity arcing from two power lines.
A firefighter and Pack approached the lines to investigate.
At the base of the utility pole lay a charred hawk.
Firefighters gathered around the base of the pole, Pack said.
Workers with Tideland Electric Membership Corp., which owns the power lines, arrived shortly thereafter to repair the lines. The workers were not surprised to learn that a hawk had caused the fire, Pack said.
The incident also caused a power outage of one hour and 10 minutes at the residence, said Heidi Smith, director of public relations for Tideland EMC.
For the year to date, the electric co-op has experienced 39 animal-related power outages, Smith said. Monday. Tideland EMC serves parts of Beaufort, Washington, Craven, Pamlico, Hyde and Dare counties.
Tideland keeps a running count of outages, Smith said. Last year, Tideland EMC tallied 92 animal-related outages.
Outages are caused by creatures such as black bears, squirrels and fire ants.
She recalled an ongoing issue last year with a black bear in Hyde County.
Underground lines are just a vulnerable as those above ground, Smith said.
Fire ants are particularly troublesome, Smith said.
For the hawk to be electrocuted, it must have come into contact with two power lines at the same time, Smith said.
When larger birds expand their wings across two power lines they can “become a conductor, a connecting circuit,” she said. “With their wings fully expanded, they get zapped and put everyone in a outage.”
With the recent rash of wildfires in the area, Pack was more concerned with containing the fire.
Pack commended the job done by the firefighters.