On October 12, 1942, just after 6:00 a.m., a U.S. Army barrage balloon, trailing 1,000 feet of steel cable, drifts over Seattle shorting out power lines and starting a fire. Power is lost to the Magnolia Bluff neighborhood, Lake Union, and Capitol Hill and the City Light steam plant is damaged.
The balloon dragged its cable over the Seattle City Light Lake Union steam plant causing short circuits and a serious fire. "Wherever the cable struck a power wire, bright blue flashes would shoot into the air" (Seattle Star). Trackless trolley lines were pulled down at 3rd Avenue and Pine St. and the Madrona trolley line was knocked out for 40 minutes. At 4th Avenue and Blanchard Street, a force of soldiers, police, and crews from City Light and Puget Sound Power & Light secured the balloon.
Other mishaps occurred on February 2, February 4, April 15, June 5, September 5, October 31, November 20, 1942, and on January 24, 1943.
A frustrated City Light Superintendent Eugene Hoffman wrote to the Federal Power Commission on June 6, 1942, that Seattle "experienced a sustained attack by United States Army balloons last night. The attack started about eleven o'clock and involved approximately twenty-five balloons."
When Hoffman submitted claims to the Army for damages, the reviewing board at Fort Lewis asked for more evidence. Ultimately, the Army paid most, but not all, of City Light's claims.
Barrage balloons, tethered by long cables, were used during World War II as a defense against air attack. Fifty-four balloons of the 303rd Balloon Barrage Battalion protected the Boeing Plant at Boeing Field. By most accounts, the balloons in locations around the world interfered with at least as many friendly aircraft as enemy aircraft.