LOS ANGELES -- With Valentine's Day this Saturday, Southland utility companies issued their annual warning for people to avoid letting metallic balloons touch power lines.
The heart-shaped foil blimps have been known to cause power outages if allowed to soar skyward, noted Southern California Edison.
Stray balloons can drift into high-voltage power lines, where electricity can arc across the foil, causing short circuits, burnt wires and damage to residential and business equipment, according to SCE.
"If the power goes out, of course, we'll restore service as quickly and as safely as possible," said Cecil House of SCE.
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"But these are preventable power outages that unnecessarily drive up costs, which are passed on to customers," House said. "We want customers to enjoy Valentine's Day and encourage them to properly dispose of metallic balloons by not releasing them outdoors."
The number of SCE outages caused by metallic balloons increased from 243 in 2000 to 569 in 2008, according to the utility.
Balloon outages spike every February around Valentine's Day, with 55 outages occurring last February in SCE's coverage area.
SCE officials said a metallic balloon released in one neighborhood can drift, knocking out power miles away.
It is illegal to sell metallic balloons without a string weight, and the utility urged people to keep metallic balloons indoors and never release them outside. Also, never attach metallic streamers to any latex or metallic blimp and never bundle metallic balloons together.
Helium-filled balloons should be secured with a weight heavy enough to prevent them from drifting away.
Stay away from downed or dangling wires, contact police or fire personnel and call SCE for assistance. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon or any foreign object tangled in power lines. Instead, call SCE at 800-611-1911.