Sky lantern ignites fire in California four-plex; Oregon may strengthen their ban

Sky Lantern poster

Investigators determined a fire that burned a portion of a four-plex structure in Santa Rosa, California was started by a sky lantern, sometimes called a Chinese lantern.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Press Democrat:

…Investigators suspect [the] fire started when a floating paper lantern landed on the shake roof of a four-plex on Butte Drive off Hardies Lane. Firefighters limited the fire to a small section of the room, Lowenthal said.

“We found the remnants of a sky lantern on the roof,” Lowenthal said.

He said they suspect this is the second fire caused by a sky lantern in the neighborhood south of Piner Road in recent weeks…

Meanwhile legislators in Oregon have introduced a bill that would strengthen the laws regulating sky lanterns. Presently they are banned over state protected lands during fire season.

Below is an excerpt from the Statesman Journal:

…Just last week, a sky lantern released to celebrate a wedding in New Zealand set a home on fire.

Oregon Rep. David Gomberg, D-Lincoln City, is co-sponsoring a bill to ban the lanterns. He calls them “flying Sterno cans.”

“They are very pretty. And they’re pretty dangerous,” he said.

They’re also cheap: Walmart offers a set of 10 for $15.99.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is the other sponsor.

“Given the stressed condition of our forests, whether it’s disease or drought or mismanagement, conflagration has become a clear and present danger,” Johnson said. “I believe one of the highest responsibilities of the legislature is not to let Oregon burn down on our watch.”

Counting Oregon, sky lanterns are banned in 29 states.

If you’re still not convinced that sky lanterns should be banned, here is an article about the problems they cause in Taiwan. It includes a photo of a dead owl tangled in a sky lantern.

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

People cited for using fire balloon that may have started wildfire

A fire balloon is the suspected cause of a wildfire that started just before midnight Tuesday night on Y-Mountain near Provo, Utah. These dangerous devices that use a small flaming object to inflate and loft a plastic or paper balloon are also called sky lanterns and Chinese lanterns.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC 4 Utah, which also has photos of the fire:

A misuse of a Chinese lantern may be to blame for flames spreading along Y-Mountain Tuesday night, officials said.

Crews with Provo Fire Rescue tweeted the fire broke out just before midnight. The Y-Trailhead is closed Wednesday morning as Provo Fire and Forest Service crews mop up the area.

The fire was contained to just a couple of acres, but officials said if needs be a helicopter would perform possible water drops from a helicopter Wednesday morning.

The people who misused the lantern were issued a citation. Officials said the fine starts at $500 but that does not include the cost of fire suppression.

One could argue that any use of a fire balloon is “misuse”. They are illegal in at least 25 states.

This is not the first time one of these things has started fires. Another recent example was in May when a fire balloon ignited a fire in a cell phone tower.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged “fire balloons”.

Sky lanterns ignite cell phone tower

Cell tower fire sky lantern
Cell tower fire ignited by sky lanterns. Screen grab from video at TWCNews.

What could possibly go wrong when dozens of sky lanterns or fire balloons were released from the Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina last weekend? 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.

Below is an excerpt from TWCNews, which has a video with more images of the tower fire:

“…My first thought was I hope this is not what’s fixing to happen. But it wound up happening. Our second thought was how are we going to get that far up to put the fire up,” said Union Road Volunteer Fire Department Chief Craig Huffstetler.

The Union Road Fire Department was already on hand in case there were any injuries or brush fires. But the cell phone tower quickly threw several challenges their way. Their ladder truck couldn’t reach all the way up to the fire, there were no fire hydrants nearby, and they’d never fought a fire quite like this one.

It took 20 firefighters, nearly 6,000 gallons of water, help from a neighboring department. And maybe a little luck to finally get the fire out.

These dangerous devices have started dozens of fires and are illegal in at least 25 states. Entire countries have banned them, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and parts of Canada. The National Association of State Fire Marshals adopted a resolution in 2013 urging states to ban the sale and use of the devices.

The other 25 states need to get off their collective asses and ban these damn things.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged sky lantern.

NFPA addresses sky lanterns

sky lanterns fire balloons

The National Fire Protection Association has taken on the issue of sky lanterns — what I call fire balloons. These dangerous devices have started dozens of fires and are illegal in at least 25 states. Entire countries have banned them, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and parts of Canada. The National Association of State Fire Marshals adopted a resolution in 2013 urging states to ban the sale and use of the devices.

The other 25 states need to get off their collective asses and ban these damn things.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged sky lantern.

In Thailand, possible death penalty for launching fire balloons

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

Using a fire balloon, sometimes called a sky lantern, can get you the death penalty in Thailand. According to reports from the local media the crackdown on the use of the devices during the annual Loy Krathong festival is intended to protect aircraft and other property from damage when citizens release the balloons in the hope that their bad luck will float away.

Below is an excerpt from a report in The Guardian:

“Releasing paper lanterns near airports can be very dangerous to the safety of aircraft and it is a criminal offence,” Police Major General Amnuay Nimmano told Reuters. “Those who violate the law will be dealt with accordingly and could face life in prison or the death penalty.”

Some airlines have cancelled flights and others have changed their schedules during the festival. Bangkok has deployed 2,000 police on to the streets and set up checkpoints, with parts of the city banning the sale of fireworks and lanterns, according to the Bangkok Post.

These incendiary devices use burning material such as rubbing alcohol or a candle to heat the air in a bag made of tissue paper or very thin plastic. The heat makes the device lighter than air causing it to rise into the sky, staying aloft for 10 minutes to 2 hours. They can be very pretty to watch especially when they are released dozens or hundreds at a time such as at a wedding or some other celebration.

The devices are known to start wildfires and structure fires. In the United States they are illegal in at least 25 states. Entire countries have banned the devices, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and parts of Canada. The National Association of State Fire Marshals adopted a resolution in 2013 urging states to ban the sale and use of the devices.