(The map above is our estimate, based on internet searches, of states that ban sky lanterns. We make no claim that it is 100 percent accurate, and bear no responsibility for how it may be used.)
Sky lanterns are sometimes used to celebrate a new year, a wedding, or they are launched just for the hell of it.
These dangerous devices use a small flaming object to inflate and loft a plastic or paper balloon, like a hot air balloon but on a much smaller scale. The heated air in the balloon is lighter than the surrounding air, causing the lantern to rise — assuming everything goes as planned. Often it doesn’t, and the sky lantern, or fire balloon, settles to the ground, is trapped in a tree, or lands on a roof.
(UPDATE: On February 18, 2016 the Nebraska legislature passed a bill, voting 44 to 0, that would ban sky lanterns in the state. The Governor signed it making Nebraska the 30th state to ban the dangerous devices.)
In case you know someone who is planning on launching sky lanterns on New Year’s Eve, please warn them that they are banned in 29 states, the National Association of State Fire Marshals recommends that they be banned everywhere, and they are illegal to use in states and cities that have adopted the International Fire Code.
After they are launched, they are completely out of control and can rise to 3,000 feet, later landing on the ground, in trees, or on structures. They have ignited roofs and started a fire that burned 800 acres in Myrtle Beach, South Caroline in 2011. In May, 2015 dozens of sky lanterns were released from the Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina. The wind blew some of them into a cell phone tower, igniting it just out of range of the water cannon on the Union Road Volunteer Fire Department’s fire engine.
On July 1, 2013 a sky lantern landed in a recycling facility in the West Midlands of England starting a fire causing an estimated six million British pounds of damage.
Also in England cows have been killed after they ate the remains of sky lanterns that fell onto the ranchers property.
An airport in Alaska had to reroute air traffic when multiple sky lanterns flew into airspace needed by aircraft. Several family members were injured when the driver of their car veered off a road to avoid hitting what turned out to be a sky lantern.
Below is an example of what can go wrong. You can jump ahead to 3:30.