Update on the legality of sky lanterns — banned in 29 states

sky lanterns banned

(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.)

Fire Balloon, Mercedes
Fire Balloon — a screen grab from a Mercedes commercial on CBS, November 4, 2012.

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.

Sky Lantern poster

Below is an example of what can go wrong. You can jump ahead to 3:30.

Art Prints

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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17 thoughts on “Update on the legality of sky lanterns — banned in 29 states”

  1. In south Florida last night, New Years Eve no one knew they were banned or cared, Saw a couple of dozen with the wind carrying them to the southwest over the soggy everglades.

    1. And if we all drove carefully, there would be no need for seat belts and/or airbags! I find your logic to be lacking about Sky Lanterns.

      1. Someone I know I won’t say the name launched them on vacation. Launching them on holidays to. Want to banish launching them on holidays & birthdays to?

    2. Yep! If you think about it, fireworks are the same. They are open flames that can hit houses and cause fires, yet they are saying “Ban the floating lanterns! They are more dangerouse than the fireworks than explode!”

    3. How can they be used with caution? Once they float away there is nothing you can do to control them.

  2. One thing that human factors/ergonomics/design engineers have learned is that it is just simply not possible for humans to be always and eternally careful, vigilant, and in control. That’s just not how people are built. People make mistakes. If they are well trained, well rested, are given well-designed tasks and equipment, and have opportunities to correct their mistakes, then the mistakes will be fewer and the consequences will be less severe, but there will still be some mistakes. To get mindless tasks done with cookie-cutter uniformity, we build machines. Machines have their weaknesses, but boredom isn’t one of them.
    “I’ll be careful” is about as reassuring as “Hold my beer and watch this.”
    A better slogan would be from a Clint Eastwood character (“Dirty Harry Callahan”, and nowadays it would be “person” for “man”):
    “A man should know his limitations.”

  3. There is no known prohibition in my state, but to let fire fly free is about the most stupid thing I have ever heard. If I were to play with a sky lantern, I would tether it with the lightest monofilament I could find and tie it in at least three places, equidistant around the edge and tie it to a weighted or tied down monofilament to keep it under control.

  4. I have an issue with the logic of banning sky lanterns and fireworks and still allowing companies to sell them in the state they are banned! If they are going to make them illegal, then the companies that sell them should have to stop selling them… PERIOD! They don’t make people aware that the sky lanterns are illegal and then they fine you for using them?!
    SURE! FINE THE LITTLE MAN FOR SETTING THEM OFF BUT DO NOTHING ABOUT THE BUSINESS THAT SELLS THEM! THAT MAKES A LOT OF SENSE!!!!!!!! That’s quite the logic!!!

  5. Yes Candace, these things should be illegal for all occasions. They start way too many fires. Would you still be in favour of them if one burned your house down?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. It would be cool to do it with my kids but the fire danger just seems to dangerous for southern California….which is making me thing the lights festival is a fake event to gather credit card info from people.

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