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Asian sky lanterns banned in California due to drought, fire hazard

Sky lanterns during a drought?
Sky lanterns during a drought?
Photo by Daniel Berehulak

Glowing rice-paper clad candles known as 'sky lanterns' are a cheap and popular night-time ending to weddings and other celebrations in Asia. News coming into the dry, drought-ridden Bay Area today from fire officials reports that these lanterns are now banned in California as a fire hazard. As the 3rd year of a drought continues, extreme fire risk already exists, and sky lanterns can land over a mile from their launch point.

These lanterns are incredible fire hazards unless you are out in open waters. In one case in Smethwick, England last year, a $10 million fire was started by a single sky lantern. Ten firemen were injured in that event. California has over 25,000 outdoor fires per year, with $37 million in damages alone.

Today, Sonoma fire prevention officers are warning against the illegal use of sky lanterns. They have already started a number of vegetation fires locally, according to the Bay City News.

The lanterns, also called floating, wishing or celebration lanterns, are airborne paper lanterns typically made of oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, said Corrine Barclay, fire and hazardous materials inspector with the Petaluma Fire Department.

The lanterns contain a small candle or fuel cell made of waxy flammable material that heats the air inside the lantern and causes it to rise into the air. The lanterns can travel long distances and may land when the flame is still burning or when the flame source is still hot creating a fire hazard, Barclay said.

These lanterns are now banned in California and 10 other states. Anyone in California using these illegal lanterns is liable for costs of any fire and public safety services responding to a related fire, as well as damages.

The sky lanterns also pose big hazards to air travelers. The Federal Aviation Association is warning the public about lanterns getting sucked into the air intake systems of aircraft engines.

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