At 7:15 a.m., PG&E officials say a seagull landed on a power line and managed to simultaneously touch a second power line at the corner of South Norfolk Street and Beacon Avenue in San Mateo.
"A wet bird, unfortunately with a large wingspan, can make contact between those two power lines and they'll arc and that can send a large voltage surge through the system and cause some damage," PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica said. "It affected lines about one-quarter mile away, some of our power lines that cross 101."
About 7,400 PG&E customers lost power; by 9:30 a.m., all but 73 had been restored.
PG&E orchestrated a traffic break on Highway 101 for mid-day to repair some of the damage, but they were forced to wait for Caltrans to get crews on the scene on a state-mandated furlough Friday. Traffic was a mess in both directions around noon; first southbound traffic was blocked for 11 minutes, then northbound traffic was blocked for another 23 minutes for crews to gain access and repair the tangled lines over the freeway.
By 12:50 p.m., the bird-generated power and traffic emergency was over. PG&E says they installed bird diverter equipment to separate power lines more and prevent this from happening again.
"We've all seen the birds sitting on power lines; well, they're fine when they do that because they're sitting on one, but unfortunately if they make contact with the other power lines, that's when problems can ensue," Molica said.
PG&E says they have worked with the Audubon Society to configure power lines to keep birds from being able to touch two lines at a time, but it can still happen.