Sky Lanterns - Fire Danger Falling From the Sky

Posted: 18-Jul-2013

Sky Lanterns are airborne paper lanterns that are typically constructed from oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame. The lanterns contain a small candle or fuel cell composed of a waxy flammable material. When lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, causing the lantern to rise uncontrollably into the air.

The devices are becoming increasingly popular at weddings and other events, and are available for purchase via the internet. They have been portrayed in a couple of recent popular movies, such as “Hangover 2” and “Tangled”.

Sky lanterns are usually released several at a time and have been known to travel significant distances with minimal air current and have a fuel cell that can burn up to 4 or more minutes.

The sky lantern is free to float to wherever the air currents take it, floating as high as 3000 feet. Then it will decrease altitude and land on the ground, in trees or on structures. In the UK it has even landed on livestock and other animals, causing injuries.  If a sky lantern is caught in a tree or lands on a roof and the fire spreads to whatever it gets caught in, this could turn into a tragic event. 

In 2011, 800 acres were burned in Myrtle Beach, S.C. when a lit lantern landed on dry brush. Sky Lanterns are now banned in Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Tennessee and South Carolina. Even in Sanya, the City in China where the lanterns were first created, they are now banned as they have caused delays and safety concerns from flights at a nearby airport.

Two recent brush fires in Avila Beach, CA. linked to sky lanterns has prompted local officials to create an Ordinance banning such devices. The California Office of the State Fire Marshal has issued Informational Bulletin 12-005 that supports banning the devices and cites current pieces of regulation and statue to support the ban.

The International Fire Code (IFC) states that all "recreational fires" must be attended by a person at all times until they are completely extinguished. Since a sky lantern is allowed to float away as the air inside the lantern rises in temperature, the flame inside the sky lantern cannot be constantly attended by a person until it is extinguished.

The Moraga-Orinda Fire District prohibits the use of sky lanterns. Persons who use sky lanterns with a resulting fire may be held financially liable for all fire suppression costs in addition to property damage or medical costs from injuries resulting from the fire.

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