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Balloons can cause problems with power lines

February 3, 2020 | Laura King-Homan | how does that work, safety
balloons in power lines, bunch of party balloons on a blue sky background

OPPD troubleshooters sometimes find things tangled in power lines: Tree branches, shoes, foil balloons and yes, even trampolines.

A quick search online will reveal dozens of videos where foil, or mylar, balloons have interfered with power lines. Sometimes they cause an explosion and fire, sometimes they cause an entire neighborhood to go dark. Proper handling and disposal of the balloons ensures they won’t cause a problem.

How does it work?

When a foil balloon, which has metal components, touches a power line it can cause a surge of electricity that shorts out circuits or other electrical equipment near the line. These shorts can cause fires and outages. One OPPD troubleshooter said it’s the equivalent of tossing an aluminum foil ball into a power line. Troubleshooters often encounter the balloons after they have become tangled in higher voltage transmission lines.

Sometimes, a foil balloon can sit among the power lines and not cause a fault or outage. But when a line technician tries to remove it, the balloon could move and short out the circuit. In some instances, the same balloon can trip a circuit over and over again.

Customers often call in obstructions in the lines, even when there isn’t a power outage. Other times, OPPD troubleshooters patrolling a line will encounter the objects.

Reduce the danger

  • Keep the balloons tethered at all times and attached to a weight so they don’t float away.
  • When you’re done with the balloon, puncture and deflate it before disposal.
  • If a balloon becomes entangled in an overhead power line, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RETRIEVE IT. Call OPPD for assistance. Always assume power lines are energized.

Beyond balloons

Troubleshooters recently recalled other objects they’ve found tangled in power lines. One might surprise you: trampolines.

When a wind storm or thunderstorm moves through, and a trampoline is not properly staked into the ground, the wind can blow it into power lines. And because trampolines are made with aluminum, removing them safely from lines can be tedious. When a line technician encounters a trampoline in a line, they often end up cutting it in half.

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About Laura King-Homan

Laura King-Homan is the managing editor of The Wire and a brand journalism strategist at Omaha Public Power District. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, including the Omaha World-Herald.

View all posts by Laura King-Homan >

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