By Tracy Correa Lopez
BAKERSFIELD — Robert Nichols came in to Log Cabin Florist in downtown Bakersfield early on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) to buy some flowers for his wife, but he walked out with a little something extra: A big bouquet of red balloons, courtesy of PG&E.
“This is awesome,” he said, as he leaned against the counter to pay for his flowers.
He was not aware of the balloon giveaway beforehand, so he was grateful for the extra gift to attach to his Valentine’s Day flowers.
However, Nichols said he is aware of the safety message that PG&E is trying to drive home: That latex balloons are a good and safer alternative over metallic balloons.
Several months ago, he said there was an outage incident near his home caused by a metallic balloon — something he learned from a PG&E employee working in his neighborhood that day.
“Now, I know,” said Nichols. “And I also know to never let metallic balloons loose into the sky.”
Power outages caused by runaway metallic balloons have more than doubled in the past decade in PG&E’s service area.
Last year, metallic balloons striking electric lines caused 429 power outages in PG&E’s service area alone, disrupting electric service to more than 200,000 homes and businesses.
In Kern County, more than 20 outages were caused by metallic balloons, affecting service to more than 1,130 homes and businesses. These outages can also interrupt electric service to hospitals, schools and traffic lights.
That’s why PG&E teamed up with Log Cabin Florist for the balloon giveaway.
A total of 80 balloon bouquets, each affixed with a weighted heart-shaped anchor, were handed out by PG&E volunteers beginning at 7 a.m. The giveaway lasted until all the balloons were gone at about 8:30 a.m. Although most customers purchased flowers, some customers came in just for the free balloons since a purchase was not required.
Rick Watson came in after seeing the giveaway promoted on a local television station.
“This is for my daughter who recently had a stroke,” said Watson.
He said he wanted to cheer up his daughter, 36, who is recovering at his home and doing remarkably well for what she’s been through.
Watson was eager to stick around, greet PG&E employees and watch a live news segment from the flower shop.
Carmelo Orozco came in to buy a single, perfectly-wrapped rose for his wife; he said it was all he could afford right now. The balloons, he said, will provide just that special touch for his wife.
“Thank you,” he said. “This is really awesome.”
While PG&E encourages customers to consider latex balloons, it also realizes some customers will choose metallic balloons.
Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind:
- “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.
- Keep metallic balloons indoors, when possible. For everyone’s safety, never permit metallic balloons to be released outside.
- Do not bundle metallic balloons together.
- Never attempt to retrieve any type of balloon, kite 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.
Email Tracy Correa Lopez at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.