Christmas Day burglaries at four electrical substations near Tacoma, Wa., causing a fire at one location and leaving thousands without power, are being investigated as law enforcement in Washington state searches for suspects. Burglars broke through the fences as two substations run by Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) and two by Puget Sound Energy over a 17-hour stretch beginning early Sunday. The burglaries left an estimated 14,000 customers in the dark on Christmas, with power mostly restored Monday, reports the Washington Post. The break-ins and resulting power outages were as frustrating for local residents as they were puzzling for local law enforcement, who said they are aware of “similar incidents occurring across the country.” The vandals did not take anything from the facilities and the motive is unclear, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said. The affected substations were in largely rural Pierce County. The facilities were all unmanned but do have some security measures. Fences outside the affected substations all showed signs of forced entry.
Tacoma Power, a division of TPU, said federal law enforcement this month sent it a security alert for the electrical grid. A spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) said vandalism incidents were under investigation. “PSE has extensive measures to monitor, protect and minimize the risk to our equipment and infrastructure,” said spokesperson Andrew Padula. The uncertainty over who carried out the Christmas Day burglaries and why they did it comes weeks after more than a half-dozen still-unsolved incidents at power stations in North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington state led to power outages and other disruptions. Those incidents come as a rise in the number of human-caused power grid attacks and disruptions deepens concerns over the vulnerability of aging and strained grid infrastructure. The power grid has plenty of challenges due to climate change-driven temperature swings and extreme weather It is just as susceptible to sabotage from humans who can use low-tech tactics — like firing bullets at equipment or throwing chains on top of busbars coils and switches above a transformer — to create high-impact damage.