Wildfire south of Kelowna, BC likely started by sky lantern

Peachland, British Columbia sky lantern
Wildfire near a home in Peachland, British Columbia on March 16, 2021 likely started by a sky lantern. Photo by Kevin Tameling.

A flaming object that fell from the sky ignited a fire 10 to 15 feet from a home  in Peachland, British Columbia on March 16. Firefighters responded quickly and suppressed the blaze, but after it had burned part of a homeowner’s deck and singed the siding.

Initially some residents thought it was space debris or a meteorite, but video indicates it was most likely a sky lantern.

At seven seconds in the video below several bright objects separate from a single bright object. Most of the new objects disappear but the largest is seen falling to the ground over the next 29 seconds.

This is consistent with what happens when the paper hot air balloon above a a sky lantern is ignited by the flames underneath. Depending on the altitude parts of the paper can burn completely or partially before they hit the ground, and the candle or burning oil may continue to burn as it falls, then possibly igniting any receptive fuel on the ground.

These dangerous devices use burning material to loft a small paper or plastic hot air balloon into the air. The perpetrator has no control over where it lands. Usually the fire goes out before it hits the ground, but not always. Sometimes the envelope catches fire while in flight. Numerous fires have been started on the ground by sky lanterns. Even if they don’t ignite a fire, they leave litter on the ground. Metal parts have been picked up by hay balers causing serious problems when fed to livestock

Sky lanterns are illegal in at least 30 states.

On December 31, 2019, New Years Eve, a sky lantern caused a fire in a zoo in Western Germany that killed more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats, and birds, authorities said.

In March of 2019 a sky lantern landing on the roof was the most likely cause of a fire that resulted in about $40,000 in damage to a business in Burlington, Vermont.

In October, 2018 surveillance camera footage in Goyang, Korea showed a sky lantern starting a fire in grass that spread to and destroyed a tank holding 2.66 million liters of gasoline, enough to fill 250 tank trucks.

In September, 2018 a sky lantern was suspected of causing a power outage on a railroad in Hong Kong, causing four trains to be disrupted for 25 minutes until repairs were made.

Here are a few other examples of damage from sky lanterns: a warehouse in the Philippines, an Olympic venue in Rio, 15 people injured and 4 homes destroyed in India, 4 homes and a boat dock in Michigan, a four-plex structure in California, and six million British pounds worth of damage to a recycling facility in England.

Sky Lantern poster
Volunteer Wildfire Service, South Africa.

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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.