Fire danger prompts ban of sky lanterns

Jun 20, 2012, 7:17 AM | Updated: 8:29 am
Sky lanterns have become popular around the world at weddings and other celebrations. But some fire marshalls consider them more dangerous than fireworks. (AP)

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.

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Fire danger prompts ban of sky lanterns