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.