Red roses, chocolates and even teddy bears. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show that special someone how much you care; but there’s something else that without proper care can be dangerous and destructive.
Helium-filled Mylar balloons. Yes, balloons.
With Valentine’s Day festivities taking place next week, many customers will celebrate with helium-filled metallic balloons. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) urges customers to securely tie a weight to all metallic balloons containing helium to prevent them from floating away. Metallic balloons that contact overhead power lines can disrupt electric service to an entire neighborhood, cause significant property damage and potentially result in serious injuries.
Last year, metallic balloons that drifted into PG&E power lines caused more than 300 outages, affecting electric service to nearly 165,000 homes and businesses throughout Northern and Central California. Sometimes these outages interrupt electric service to important facilities such as hospitals, schools and traffic lights. A video detailing the damage that can result from metallic balloons coming into contact with power lines can be found below.
Nacho Araquistain is an electric troubleman based in Hayward. In nearly three decades with PG&E, he has seen the kind of problems that metallic balloons have caused. Last Valentine’s Day, he noticed a street vendor selling heart-shaped balloons.
“Her whole stand was just covered with balloons and I thought to myself, ‘Well, we’re going to have a problem today,’” he recalled.
Later that day, he was alerted to an outage.
“I looked up and sure enough there was a string of 15 Mylar balloons on the line,” Araquistain said. “I went up there and cut the balloons down and came back down and handed them to the vendor and I told her that you need to be very, very careful. She was very surprised at the extent of the explosion she saw directly across from her.”
“There’s always plenty of electricity in the air on Valentine’s Day, but we need your help to secure metallic balloons to make sure they stay close to your loved ones and away from power lines,” said Jason Regan PG&E’s director of Emergency Management and Response. “Mylar balloons can cause energized wires to fall to the ground posing a serious safety risk, so with Valentine’s Day and other celebrations it is important to take precautions if you are including them as part of your festivities.”
The balloons are made of a metallic compound that conducts electricity.
“It’s the conducting that creates the problems,” Araquistain said. “Any time the balloon gets between two phases or two wires in the ground then you have current flow. And it’s the current flow that causes the arc and that’s what short circuits our equipment.”
State law requires that Mylar balloons be sold with a weight attached. Many florists sell the balloons with a reminder to customers to be responsible.
“It’s extremely important for us and our community that we try to be as safe as possible with the Mylars,” said Ow, who estimated that as many as 70 percent of her customers add balloons to their flower orders.
The number of power outages caused by metallic balloons in PG&E’s service area has more than doubled over the past decade. In order to significantly reduce this number and to help ensure that everyone can safely enjoy their Valentine’s Day, PG&E reminds customers to follow these important safety tips for metallic balloons:
- “Look Up and Live!” Use caution and avoid celebrating with metallic balloons near overhead electric lines.
- Make sure helium-filled metallic balloons are securely tied to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Never remove the weight.
- When possible, keep metallic balloons indoors. Never permit metallic balloons to be released outside, for everyone’s safety.
- Do not bundle metallic balloons together.
- Never attempt to retrieve any type of balloon, kite or toy that becomes caught in a power line. Leave it alone, and immediately call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 to report the problem.
- Never go near a power line that has fallen to the ground or is dangling in the air. Always assume downed electric lines are energized and extremely dangerous. Stay far away, keep others away and immediately call 911 to alert the police and fire departments.