Mylar mishap blows transformer


A power failure Friday on the land side of Pacific Coast Highway in eastern Malibu left residents in La Costa, Las Flores and parts of Big Rock powerless for more than three hours. The culprit — an unweighted Mylar balloon.

Southern California Edison reported the outage occurred when the metallic balloon wafted out of a home in the 21200 block of PCH and hit a power line.

The contact blew approximately 20 transformers affecting 231 customers, Edison reported. Witnesses said they heard a loud explosive-like sound from some of the transformers, followed by a blue light or flame. There were no reports of fire sparked by the incident.

Hap Holmwood, the city’s Emergency Services Coordinator, reported the power went out at 10 a.m. and was restored by 1 p.m., although it took longer to reset all the traffic signals.

“Balloons are fun, but responsibility goes along with them. The weights should be kept on until they no longer float in the air, and they should be disposed of properly,” Holmwood said. “Balloons do not have a license to travel.”

As long as the helium-filled balloons retain their conductive ability, they should be kept away from all electric devices. “We all know about static electricity but seldom think about seemingly benign things like balloons having the ability to short out electricity,” Holmwood said. “They should be treated with respect.”

Last Memorial Day in Lincoln R.I., a power occurred when a Mylar balloon became entangled in power lines cutting off power to 3,400 people.

A wet or dirty kite string or a string made with metallic thread can also conduct electricity.

Susan Asai, owner of Bear to Bear, which supplies balloons of all kinds for Malibu parties, said she never sells Mylar balloons without weights attached. “I think there’s a law prohibiting the sale of Mylar ribbon on latex balloons and Mylar balloons without weights.”

Environmentalists have warned for years that all plastic-like elements, such as Mylar, that do not biodegrade should be kept out of the environment where they can also harm wildlife. Birds and animals have also choked to death on latex balloons that have come back to earth after losing their helium.