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Thousands left without power after four Pierce County substations attacked

Utility companies and law enforcement are investigating the incidents.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — At least 17,000 people were left without power after four substations were attacked in Pierce County on Christmas Day.

Two Tacoma Power utilities substations and one Puget Sound Energy (PSE) substation were vandalized Sunday morning. Another Puget Sound Energy substation was set on fire Sunday evening.

Pierce County Sheriff's deputies responded to a burglary call at the Tacoma Public Utilities substation at 22312 46th Avenue E just before 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Although nothing was stolen, someone vandalized and damaged equipment inside, which caused a power outage in the area.

Deputies were then notified of a second burglary call at a substation at 8820 224th Street E, also with nothing stolen and damage to equipment.

A third incident was reported later in the morning by Puget Sound Energy. A substation at 10915 144th St E was burglarized at 2:39 a.m., which caused power outages to around 7,300 customers.

On Sunday evening, deputies responded to a fire at a Puget Sound Energy substation at 14320 Kapowsin Highway. Deputies say the fire was started intentionally. Crews put the fire out, but it knocked out power to about 3,000 customers in the Kapowsin and Graham areas.

"There's a good possibility they are related. We are going to be investigating to see if this was coordinated by a specific group or people, but at this time all we know is that we have burglaries where the power was purposefully knocked out," Pierce County Sgt. Darren Moss told KING 5.

The sheriff's office is actively investigating but there are no suspects at this time.

Power was restored to all Tacoma Public Utilities customers Monday. About 500 PSE customers remain without power Monday.

Early Christmas morning before the sun was even up, Amanda Clark was one of the customers without power.

"It's scary in our small little community that something like that would happen," she said.

For her family, she had the makings for the perfect Christmas day. "We had prime rib, and ham and baked potatoes," Clark said.

She had a dinner for 12 planned, including grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and nephews. But those plans took a dark turn.

"We woke up at 5:30 and the power was out," Clark said.

Her family also has a well that runs on electricity, and they lost their access to water. They had to flush toilets using buckets of water from a friend's house.

"This is stressful," Clark said. "I just need to know what we're gonna do. I feel bad, you know. We had 12 people coming for dinner."

Nothing was stolen in these substation burglaries. Deputies said they are hesitant to call it domestic terrorism because they do not have a suspect.

Earlier this month, Washington law enforcement sources confirmed to KING 5 that they received a memo from the FBI warning them about similar attacks to power stations in the Pacific Northwest. 

Puget Sound Energy said two incidents occurred at their stations in late November.

A substation in Clackamas County, Oregon was also attacked on Thanksgiving morning, according to the Bonneville Power Administration. Officials are working to understand whether these attacks are related.

Substations in North Carolina were also attacked in early December, knocking out power for days in Moore County.

"The trope of attacking power infrastructure, of hitting the electrical grid, critical infrastructure, is an old tenet of the American extreme right-wing," said Ali Winston, an independent journalist who has spent years researching and reporting on the actions of extremist groups. 

Officials are now patrolling Pierce County's substations. Tacoma Power Distribution Manager Joseph Wilson said they are considering putting an extra focus on national holidays while increasing security.

"It is possible," Wilson said. "There are means to harden some of these facilities, but it's a very expensive endeavor."

Police are also reviewing surveillance footage they obtained from the facility cameras and using it as part of their investigation.

Power was restored to most customers late Sunday evening, but many spent Christmas in the dark.

"Not sure why anybody wants to do that to other people on a day when, you know, we're here to celebrate with our families and be together and have that downtime, especially with the last couple years," Clark said.

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