An attempted copper theft at an Eagan substation early Wednesday knocked out power for thousands of residents and sent a would-be thief to Regions Hospital.

Eagan police said the 33-year-old suspect from St. Paul suffered severe burns but was in stable condition Wednesday and is expected to survive.

Two other St. Paul residents found near the substation, a 28-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man, were arrested on suspicion of felony criminal damage to property. They were booked at the Eagan Police Department and released.

Joe Miller, a spokesman for Dakota Electric, said the injured suspect scaled a chain-link fence, cut through the barbed wire at the top and then climbed on top of a transformer, where he was injured when he came into contact with a 69,000-volt transmission line.

Witnesses reported seeing a flash of light and hearing a boom at the substation before the power went out at about 12:35 a.m. About 7,100 Dakota Electric customers in western and southwestern Eagan were without power until 3 a.m.

The substation on Deerwood Drive west of Interstate 35E is the point at which power from transmission lines is divvied up into smaller underground lines that deliver it to homes and other buildings.

Miller said copper thefts increased a few years ago when the price of the metal went up, but Dakota Electric hasn't dealt with a copper theft for years.

He urged people to heed the posted warnings, stay outside fenced-in areas and call 911 if they see suspicious activity at a substation.

"It's a dangerous place to be," Miller said. "It's just sad and it's just crazy that anyone would think to go in there and risk their life for a minor amount of whatever financial gain they thought they could get."

Eagan police are investigating and working with the Dakota County attorney's office to determine the appropriate charges.

Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056