Balloons and Bushfires
(12/09/2019) | Categories:
| Naming Ceremonies | Wedding Ceremonies | Wedding
Rituals | Wedding Planning |
Balloons are a festive addition to
many celebrations. Helium-filled balloons released
during ceremonies make for great photos, provide
opportunities for expression of joy, loss, and
release, and for great photos. So, despite, despite
growing recognition of their impact on wildlife
through ingestion or entanglement, particularly those
that live in and around the sea, together with
land-based wildlife, and active banning by a few
jurisdictions in Australia of mass releases, they are
still relatively common, particularly at naming and
But did you know that released balloons are
also a potential fire-hazard?
Helium and balloons
Balloons destined to be part of a balloon release are
generally filled with with helium. Helium allows the
balloon to rise and float, carried on wind and thermal
updrafts for long distances. While helium is an inert
gas that does not burn, its role in allowing balloons
to travel great distance, together with what the
balloons are made of and what may be attached to them,
constitutes a risk of not only spreading a fire, but
also of causing it.
There are two types of balloons on the market that are
commonly used in balloon releases and for
decorations - latex (rubber) and Mylar (foil),
each with their own specific hazard-creating
properties, together with hazards that are common to
Mylar (Foil) Balloons as a
(foil) is a lightweight metallised
nylon material that is more efficient at keeping
helium from escaping than latex. Mylar balloons
constitute a bushfire hazard because
they can travel for very long distances, trailing
whatever is attached behind them. Should a Mylar
balloon land on overhead power lines, it can can
create a spark, or burn, which in turn could
ignite surrounding grass or bush.
- they can stay afloat for several weeks
conduct static electricity.
Latex Balloons as a Bushfire
Latex balloons are normally filled with either helium or
air. Helium doesn't support flames, air does. The issue,
as with Mylar balloons is the balloon itself, what's
attached to it, and how far it can travel.
Natural latex is not highly flammable, however it can
and does burn. To make a latex balloon fire
resistant you would have to fill it with water, which
means it won't float.
When latex balloons are filled with helium so that they
float, they typically retain their buoyancy for only a
day or so because they deflate fairly quickly as the
helium escapes through small pores in the latex. Helium
atoms are smaller than those pores. The larger the
balloon, the longer the float time. However, if inside
of a latex balloon is coated with a special gel to
reduce helium leakage, the float time is increased two
Ironically, latex balloons filled with air usually hold
their size and shape much longer, because air
molecules are larger and slower moving than helium
molecules, so air doesn't escape as quickly as helium
would. While they may not rise to such heights, we've
all had the experience of an air-filled balloon taking
off when inadvertently released. On a windy day an
air-filled balloon could travel significant distances.
Bushfire hazards common to
both types of balloons
capacity to travel great distances over periods of
time is a feature of balloons, particularly helium
filled balloons, so potentially a balloon released
in a low-fire risk area, or on a low-fire risk day,
could stay aloft long enough and travel far enough
to constitute a fire hazard where conditions are
different, or have changed.
Flammable strings or ribbons attached to balloons
also pose a risk, regardless of the type of
balloon. Any contact with open flame or embers
could allow the string to burn while the balloon is
floating from one area to another, a potential to
spread a fire.
Is it legal?
the release of balloons into the
environment is considered littering under the Waste
Reduction and Recycling Act 2011—whether released
deliberately or by accident.
In New South Wales releasing more than 20
balloons at a time is illegal under the Protection of
the Environment Operations Act 1997 No 156
Play it safe
To play it safe
- do not plan a release during summer, wherever you
- be careful to ensure balloons used purely for
decoration are weighted down and well anchored and
therefore unlikely to escape
- be careful even with individual balloons.