At least two private companies are in the business of charging admission to organized events where the participants can ignite and release sky lanterns.
The devices are banned in 29 states primarily because there have been many fires, both wildland and structure fires, ignited when the flame that heats the air in the paper enclosure can still be active when the lantern lands back on the ground. Or there can be a malfunction, such as the paper envelope catching fire, a gust of wind driving it to the ground, or it being hung up in a tree.
There is also the problem of litter. Every lantern released becomes someone else’s garbage. While one event organizer claims they retrieve 100 percent of the devices, it seems unlikely that if hundreds or thousands are lofted and then transported by the wind that all of them could be picked up. Some of the events allow releases over a period of severaL hours. The direction the wind is blowing is frequently not consistent for extended periods of time, which would lead to the lanterns being sprayed over a large area.
We discovered two companies that organize sky lantern releases. Rise, or RiseFestival, has two events listed on their website — October 7 and 8, 2016 at Mojave, Nevada. Their fees are $89 to $129 for adults, and $59 to $69 for children 3-10 years old. Nevada is one of the 21 states that have not yet banned sky lanterns.
The other company, LanternFest, has 19 events scheduled, with four of them planned in states where releasing them is illegal. We contacted LanternFest and were told by Kiara:
Our events are legal and fully permitted through the city, venue, and fire department at every event location! We are permitted much like a large firework show, and we work closely with your local Fire Marshal to ensure this event is safe.
The company’s next lantern release will be June 11, 2016 in El Dorado State Park in Kansas, approximately 25 miles northeast of Wichita. The devices are banned in some jurisdictions in the state, but not state-wide. Legislation banning them was introduced in 2014 but it died in committee.
Seth Turner, the manager of the park, said the company has a special event permit for the sky lantern release. He said in 2015 6,000 people attended a similar event. The company has stated they will retrieve the lanterns, but when asked how many they were able to pickup last year, Mr. Turner said, “I have no idea”. He said they travel for about a mile and a half through the air and they have not started any vegetation fires to his knowledge. We asked if he was concerned about the the threat of fires, and he said “That is something we monitor”. The park is about three miles long and an average of about 0.8 miles wide. The west end is a peninsula into a lake and is buffered by about a half mile of water. East of the park is private land.
We called the local Butler County sheriff’s office to ask if they had any concerns about the litter or a risk of wildfire near El Dorado State Park, but we were told the Sheriff and everyone in the office will be off until Tuesday May 31 for the holiday weekend.
In addition to the above events in Kansas and Nevada planned by the two companies, LanternFest is planning lantern releases later this year in Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.