Rogue balloon causes OC power outage, 1,700 customers affected



Wednesday’s power outage affected Chapman buildings along Center Street, including the Keck Center for Science and Engineering.  Photo by Sydnee Valdez.

By Samantha Colwell and Sydnee Valdez


Chapman’s Orange campus experienced a several minute power outage yesterday as a result of metallic balloon caught in a power line, officials and employees said.

Buildings bordered by Palm Avenue, Walnut Avenue, Center Street and Glassell Street were affected by the blackout, which began around 3 p.m., according to Chief of Public Safety Randy Burba.

About 1,700 Orange County customers lost power, said Sally Jeun, a spokeperson for  Southern California Edison (SCE). Jeun said the outage lasted only a minute, although campus workers said it was at least several minutes. Computer screens went black, and workers and faculty wandered away from their offices to seek guidance as to when power would be restored. An employee at Leatherby Libraries said the lights remained on there, courtesy of a back up generator.

The balloon that caused the outage was caught in a power line west of Citrus Street and south of Almond Avenue. Jeun said that SCE removed the balloon from the powerline at 3:34 p.m., and no repairs were needed.

Outages caused by rogue balloons are not unique; in 2017 SCE saw more than 1000 power outages due to metallic balloons, which affected 1.4 million people, according to Edison International.

The threat of power outages is so severe that it is illegal in California to sell a metallic or foil balloon without a weight attached to it, according to the State Legislature. It’s also illegal to release them.

Public Safety responds to power outages by checking for people in the elevators and surveying building access, according to Burba. He added that outages are infrequent and said there isn’t much officials can do to anticipate or prevent them.

“To guess the likelihood (of another outage) would be pure speculation. Power outages are generally rare,” Burba said.

Balloon outages are different from other power outages because the balloons need to be physically removed from the power line. Metallic balloons are made from Mylar, a conductive material derived from polyester. Because of this, removing a balloon from a line is hazardous for workers and can cause fires, according to Edison International’s website.