Several hundred Washington area residents found themselves without electricity for brief periods on Thanksgiving Day, and the power companies asserted that cavorting squirrels were to blame.

"They're having a field day today," a spokesman for Vepco said yesterday of the squirrels who sometimes become unwitting conductors of electricity as they scamper about on utility poles, causing power failures in nearby homes.

A Pepco spokesman theorized that the squirrel antics increase on holidays because the lack of traffic gives the animals more freedom to rush about and climb the poles.

The problem arises when the animals stand on the transformer, a grayish box attached to the pole, touch a hot wire and become electrical conductors. The transformer's fuse blows, causing power failures, she said. The squirrels, she added, generally do not survive the experience.

"It's actually a short circuit, as when a fuse blows in a home and you have to replace it," said Kaydra Bradford, who added that the problem generally does not cause electrical failures in a wide area.

Between 250 and 300 Pepco customers scattered through Montgomery County were victimized by the scampering squirrels yesterday. A Vepco employe said the company received calls about power failures caused by the squirrels in scattered areas of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Vepco's Alan Jordan said the squirrels climb the poles during the cold morning hours to get to the transformers and warm up, so the problems usually subside as the day wears on and temperatures rise.

He said the problem occurs at times other than holidays, but that more customers notice the brief power failures when they are at home.

At least one Washington-area resident had a special reason to note the failure yesterday: he reported his Thanksgiving turkey was ruined when the power went out as it was cooking.