Pierce County, WA – An estimated 14,000 customers were without power on Christmas Day after vandals broke into four area energy substations and damaged equipment, according to investigators.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) said the intruders even managed to start a fire inside one of the substations during the series of break ins on Dec. 25, CNN reported.
The PCSD received a tall of a burglary at the Tacoma Public Utilities Substation off of 46th Avenue in Graham at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to KIRO.
“When the deputies got there, there was nobody on scene, but they saw that the fence area had been broken into,” PCSD Sergeant Darren Moss said. “In this one, the suspects cut one of the locks on the fenced area, made their way inside, and caused damage to the substation.”
Investigators had barely been made aware of the first vandalism when they received a call of another energy substation burglary at a location off of 224th Street, KIRO reported.
The PCSD contacted another power company, Puget Sound Energy, and discovered that they had a substation off of 144th Street that was also targeted.
“All three happened in the middle of the night, on Christmas day causing power outages,” Sgt. Moss told KIRO. “Nothing was stolen in those facilities, so it’s a good possibility they are related.”
A fourth power station was hit in Pierce County shortly before 7:30 p.m. that night, KIRO reported.
The substation, which is located near Graham on Kapowsin Highway, was on fire when crews arrived at the scene.
Another 500 customers had their power knocked out due to that attack, KIRO reported.
“At this time deputies are conducting the initial investigation. We do not have any suspects in custody,” the PCSD said in a press release. “It is unknown if there are any motives or if this was a coordinated attack on the power systems.”
Multiple other power substations in Oregon and southern Washington were also broken into and damaged by burglars last month, garnering the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CNN reported.
Two electric substations were hit by vandals in Moore County, North Carolina on Dec. 3, resulting in a loss of power to approximately 45,000 customers, according to CNN.
Those attacks were caused by a suspect who fired at the facilities with a high-powered rifle, according to investigators.
Some of those affected by the outages were without power for days.
“This was a malicious, criminal attack on the entire community,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told CNN.
The FBI issued a bulletin on Nov. 22 warning that extremists could potentially target electricity infrastructure “to create civil disorder and inspire further violence,” according to CNN.
Anti-government groups have been posting details about power grid vulnerabilities and how to attack them on various online forums over the past two years, according to investigators.
In January of 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified utility companies that “domestic violent extremists” had been developing “credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure” since at least one year prior, and that they had identified the electric grid “as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” the News & Observer reported.
Investigators in Washington state have asked residents who reside near the electric substations that where vandalized and damaged on Christmas Day to check their security cameras for any suspicious activity that may have occurred between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. that day, KIRO reported.
In the meantime, the PCSD has increased patrols at all of the power stations in the area, according to the news outlet.