Fire balloons suspected of starting 300 fires in Russia

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

Fire balloons, sometimes called sky lanterns, are suspected of causing 300 vegetation fires in the Sverdlovsk oblast in Russia.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Yekaterinburg News:

…“It is especially dangerous when a torch with open flame inside gets into the crown of a coniferous tree: rich in essential oils needles erupts like a match,” the Sverdlovsk region’s Department of Forestry in a statement, according to Oblastnaya Gazeta. “And if that happens in windy weather, the fire spread[s] with lightning speed.”

As of Feb. 27, sky lanterns have been banned in residential and urban areas situated close to forests in the Sverdlovsk region. Individuals seen using sky lanterns will be fined between $30 and $5,700, depending on whether or not a fire is caused as a result.

Currently, firefighters are working to contain a 20-acre blaze in the Sverdlovsk region’s Bilimbaevskom Sukholozhsky woodland area, according to Oblastnaya Gazeta.

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.

Below is an excerpt from their position on the issue:

…Therefore, be it resolved that the National Association of State Fire Marshals strongly encourages states to ban the sale and use of sky lanterns through whichever means is most expedient for them. Banning the use of sky lanterns is important to help control homemade devices as well as those purchased from various sources.

The best case scenario for these dangerous devices is that they scatter trash around the countryside. The worst case is when they start fires that do serious damage, such as when one was suspected of destroying 15 houses in the Philippines on January 1, 2013.

A company called Rise Lantern Festival is planning fire balloon events around the world, hoping to make money by selling tickets to the participants. They have one planned on October 18, 2014 about 20 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada, and another for Bali, Indonesia on November 15, 2014. Their web site does not specify how the trash will be collected, or how they plan to deal with fires that may result.

An organization that until recently only campaigned against releasing hundreds or thousands of lighter than air balloons at events, has now taken on fire balloons or sky lanterns.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chuck

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.