Tragedy Averted As Balloons Cause St. Pat's Day Fire
By Howard Schwach
An errant Mylar balloon, most likely launched by a marcher at last Saturday's St. Patrick's Day Parade, took out a primary electric line on Beach 111 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, causing a 10-block power outage and a large street fire, a spokesperson for the Long Island Power Authority reported.
"The Mylar balloons burned out a large Primary Line, causing the line to spark and fall down to the street," Elizabeth Slagler, a spokesperson for LIPA said. Sparks from the line reportedly set the tar that had been used to patch the street after a water main break last month on fire.
Eyewitnesses told The Wave that the fire broke out approximately 10 minutes after hundreds of marchers, including many children, moved past Beach 111 Street.
One eyewitness speculated that had the power line come down while the marchers were underneath, many people could have been seriously injured.
The power blackout that resulted from the fallen line took in most of the peninsula from Beach 116 Street to Beach 108 Street, knocking out electricity in some places and cable service in others.
All of the stores on Beach 116 Street from Rockaway Beach Boulevard to Beach Channel Drive, including the firehouse, were dark during the two-hour period that it took LIPA to fix the line.
Workers from many of the stores and restaurants stood in small groups on the shopping street on what should have been one of the busiest nights of the year.
Traffic lights in the affected area from Beach Channel Drive to Rockaway Beach Boulevard were out of operation as well, and many police officers that were brought to Rockaway to handle the post-parade crowds wound up on traffic duty instead.
The Rockaway Rugby Club, often the focal point of post-parade problems, lost its electricity for a period, but remained open and there were no reported incidents at the club.
LIPA officials said that the power outage started sometime after 3 p.m. and that electricity was restored to the area by 5:30 p.m.