Stories & Features

Rogue balloons cause outage in downtown Vancouver

Image of balloons caught on electrical wires
Helium balloons and kites caught in power lines can cause safety hazards and outages. The key is to weight each balloon individually, and to always look up and be aware of power lines.

Balloons and kites can mess with power lines

Normally, a weekend night in downtown Vancouver's Yaletown district is filled with crowds of people socializing and dining into the early hours. But on a recent Friday night, Yaletown's streets were unusually deserted after an unexpected power outage plunged the neighbourhood into darkness.

The culprits were some runaway helium balloons that got tangled in a power line. Crews had to first locate the balloons, then disconnect the power line and safely untangle them before restoring power to the neighbourhood. Power was restored to homes and businesses about an hour later.

"When helium balloons are released, they can drift into power lines, transformers and substations, which can cause significant outages and damage to the electrical equipment," said Wayne Martell, a regional manager who oversees power line infrastructure, outages and storm response. "There have been a few instances of balloons getting caught in power lines in Yaletown, and we encourage people with helium balloons to be extra cautious to not allow them to come loose. This can be both unsafe and cause disruption to our electrical system."

A similar situation occurred in Chilliwack in April 2016, when a runaway helium balloon left 4,800 customers without power, after coming into contact with a power line. Crews were able to restore power within 45 minutes, but said the balloons could have caused significantly more damage to the power lines.

Balloons & kites: How to keep yourself and our system safe

Most children (and a lot of adults) enjoy balloons, and they can definitely liven up a party or festive occasion. When carrying balloons or flying kites, keep in mind a few precautions you can exercise to ensure safety around electricity.

  • Weight each balloon: secure each balloon, individually, to a weight. Otherwise, there's too much risk of one balloon escaping from a bunch and drifting into a power line.
  • Tie multiple balloons together: once each balloon has a weight tied to it, tie multiple balloons in a bunch together. They'll be easier to carry.
  • Look up and be aware: watch for power lines in your area, and never carry balloons or a kite under power lines. Not only do you risk them coming into contact with the power line and causing an outage, you could be harmed if you or your child is still holding the balloon or kite when it touches a power line.
  • Don't play around BC Hydro equipment: Stay away from substations and pad mounted transformer boxes around your neighbourhood. Never poke or climb on top of a pad mounted transformer box.
  • Call for help: Never try to retrieve an object that has come into contact with a power line or gone into a substation. If a ball or toy goes behind the fence of a substation, call BC Hydro 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376).