They might be pretty to watch, but they're incredibly dangerous, and local firefighters want you to know why increasingly-popular sky lanterns are a bad idea.
Sky lanterns have been around for centuries, as popular symbols launched at weddings, birthday parties and remembrance ceremonies. Using them has become increasingly popular again but, because they cannot be well-controlled, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and firefighters across the country caution against using sky lanterns.
"(T)he lanterns can be affected by wind, which can force out the hot air and send the flaming lanterns falling back to the ground and possibly into trees, fields, structures, or power lines. NFPA codes do not allow the use of the lanterns under any circumstances," according to the NFPA website.
"The lantern itself is made of lightweight biodegradable tissue paper on a bamboo frame with a small wax fuel cell suspended in the middle. Just light the wax fuel cell and the lantern fills with hot air, causing it to rise gently into the night sky," according to the skylanterns.us website. The site cautions against flying sky lanterns at times when there is "any noticeable wind" and advises only using fire-resistant sky lanterns.
Sky lanterns have also caused some serious fires, including one recently in Muscatine, Iowa.
"Although this particular incident caused only minor damage to the house, it serves as a reminder why sky lanterns are not allowed in Muscatine," said Muscatine Fire Marshal Mike Hartman.
"The Y mountain fire near Provo, UT began on July 14 due to a sky lantern. A cell phone tower in Gastonia, NC had major damage in May and required 20 firefighters, 6,000 gallons of water and a mutual aid response due to the location of the fire. In July of 2013 a fire caused by sky lanterns in the UK required a response from 200 responders, saw a fire loss in excess of $9 million, and injured 13 fire fighters," Hartman said.
"The lanterns have also caused injuries to people and have been the cause of death of many wild and domestic animals. The remnants of the lantern act as litter and animals can become entangled or even accidentally ingest what is left of the lantern," Hartman said.
Hartman reiterated Muscatine's ban on the use of sky lanterns because they violate several sections of local, national and international fire codes.