Fire danger prompts ban of sky lanterns

Sky lanterns have become popular around the world at weddings and other celebrations. But some fire marshalls consider them more dangerous than fireworks. (AP) | Zoom
Sky lanterns have become popular around the world at weddings and other celebrations. But some fire marshalls consider them more dangerous than fireworks.

The Kittitas County Commission is the latest to ban the floating bags of fire, voting unanimously Tuesday.

They're essentially a little hot air balloon, a pillowcase-shaped fabric or paper device covering a light- weight metal frame. You light a ring of wax and the thing fills with hot air and rises, glowing, into the night sky.

Kittitas County Fire Marshall Brenda Larsen got concerned when she heard about a mass release of sky lanterns, or Chinese lanterns in her county, east of the Cascades crest.

"They provide a potential for an ignition source in wildlands if they land on trees, grass, brush, shrubs, any type of combustible," said Larsen.

Curiously, fireworks are legal in Kittitas County, but sky lanterns are banned, starting Wednesday. Larsen says sky lanterns pose a unique concern.

"They can burn for five to 15 minutes whereas a firework has an explosive pyrotechnic component [and] once it explodes, it's spent, so you've got less than one minute's time on most fireworks," Larsen explained.

Examples of what can go wrong with Chinese lanterns are all over the Internet.

The city of Mukilteo banned sky lanterns last month. Fire Marshall Jim Thomas looked into them after getting a bulletin from the state fire marshall. Besides burning dry grass, trees, and roofs, he learned sky lanterns are a threat to aviation.

"These things can actually climb, according to the bulletin, up to 1,500 feet in elevation which also presents an issue for Mukilteo [since] we're next to an airport," Thomas said.

A world record of more than 10,000 of the paper lanterns were launched in Indonesia.

Chinese lanterns are illegal in some countries and they've been banned in Tennessee and South Carolina.

Tim Haeck, KIRO Radio Reporter
Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.
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