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Pheasant the cause of Dickinson power outage

North Dakota's most popular game bird is to blame for a Tuesday morning incident that left about 7,700 Dickinson Montana-Dakota Utilities customers without power.

It also started a fire.

"A pheasant tried to perch on the line and that caused a fault and that's what set off the breakers at the substation," MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said, adding it's similar to how breakers work in homes. When a surge is detected, the breaker shuts down as a safety precaution.

Three of the five substations that serve the Dickinson area went down.

When the pheasant fell from the line it caused a small grass fire, he said.

A circle of grass under the power line was on fire when Dickinson Rural Fire Department firefighters responded, Chief Curt Lefor said, adding there was a lot of smoke because it was in thick grass, but it only took a few minutes to put out.

The fire was south of Dickinson and about a mile east of Highway 22 on a section line. No one was injured, "just the pheasant," Lefor quipped.

The power went out at 7:26 a.m. and at 7:55 a.m. MDU had it restored to western and southern Dickinson. During the outage, police officers directed traffic across Dickinson due to nonfunctioning stoplights. By 8:30 a.m., the remaining customers had power, Hanson said.

After the incident, MDU crews installed a retrofit to the line to decrease the likelihood of harming wildlife, he said. "It makes the area they land on safer for them."

However, birds and power lines have never mixed.

Last week a Canadian goose got tangled in a power line near Dickinson, which also started a small grass fire, Lefor said.