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Nov-15-2016 13:48printcomments

Hood River Power Outage Caused by Metallic Balloon

There are about 30 of these "balloon" outages a year, just in the Hood River area.

Mylar balloon
All that remains of a Mylar balloon that caused an outage in Hood River over the weekends are a few smears of plastic. Photo: Pacific Power

(HOOD RIVER, Ore.) - A power outage that disrupted life in Hood River Nov. 12 was caused by a metallic-skinned helium balloon that got away.

"We found unmistakable Mylar shreds when we did the repairs," said Curt Mansfield, vice president for operations at Pacific Power.

The balloon from a nearby celebration apparently blew into a substation and made contact with electrical equipment and caused a short. Response came quickly and power was back on within 75 minutes.

While rare, balloon-caused outages are regular occurrences. Pacific Power reported about 30 such outages in 2015, ranging in duration from a few minutes to several hours. In 2014, a balloon caused a six-hour outage in Seaside in the middle of July 4 weekend.

Balloon-caused outages occur throughout the year, but about one third of them are during May and June when people are celebrating graduations and Father's Day.

"Balloons may seem like small things," said Mansfield, "but when escaped helium-filled balloons touch power lines, transformers or substations, even the smallest amount of metal found in the balloons can conduct electricity, causing damage to lines and power fluctuations or outages in nearby homes and businesses.

"Balloons also can cause serious personal injury if they make contact with lines when anyone is still touching an attached string."

"About 30 a year is not a lot," added Mansfield. "But all outages inconvenience our customers and these outages are so preventable."

There are steps you can take to help minimize the potential dangers:

  • Keep the balloons indoors where they can't rise into overhead power lines or drift into contact with transformers or substations.
  • Make sure the string for each balloon is securely attached and short enough to control its direction.
  • Attach a weight to the balloon's string so it cannot float away; and never intentionally release metallic balloons.
  • Supervise children who have received balloons as a gift.
  • Deflate balloons after the holiday and keep as a memento or dispose of properly. Birds and squirrels have been known to carry balloon remnants onto lines.
  • If you notice a balloon near a power line, do not try to retrieve it. REPORT IT to your local power company.


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