Metallic balloons

A lineman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. retrieves a metallic balloon from a power line in Napa.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is reminding people that metallic balloons can cause sparks between more than just you and your Valentine this weekend if they come into contact with overhead power lines.

Such balloons were the cause of 453 power outages affecting more than 250,000 homes and businesses in PG&E’s service area last year, a 30% increase over 2019. The utility believes the sharp rise could be attributed to more people holding at-home celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Metallic balloons are an easy way to make at-home celebrations more festive, but nothing puts a damper on a romantic evening faster than a widespread power outage for you, your friends or your neighbor,” said Ken Wells, vice president of electric distribution at PG&E..

The utility recommends that people keep helium-filled metallic balloons indoors and secured with a weight to prevent them from getting loose and drifting into overhead lines, which it said can disrupt electricity service, cause significant property damage, and potentially even result in serious injury.

Tuolumne County had six outages last year from metallic balloons coming into contact with power lines that affected 9,784 and resulted in an average of 80 minutes of electricity lost per customer. Calaveras County also had six outages affecting 706 customers for an average of more than four hours of power lost per customer.

A survey by the National Retail Foundation found that only 21% of people celebrating Valentine’s Day on Sunday are planning to have an evening, which was the lowest percentage in 17 years.

PG&E provided the following 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, drone 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. Other tips can be found at pge.com/beprepared.

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