Sky lanterns pose threat as summer, wildfire season begins



As summer begins and the wildfire danger grows, firefighters in Western Washington are sounding a new alarm about sky lanterns.

If you’re not familiar with them, sky lanterns are essentially miniature, flaming hot air balloons.

Here’s a YouTube video of hundreds of lanterns being launched in Taiwan in 2006:

A quick YouTube search will also reveal plenty of lantern-related mishaps. Videos like “Chinese Lantern Fail” show lanterns being released, only to start small fires moments later.

In one video, a lantern goes over a fence and catches a neighbor’s bush on fire. In other cases, people end up chasing runaway lanterns down streets or watching and they go skyward toward buildings or trees.

Sky lanterns can burn for 15 minutes and fly up to 1,500 feet.

Mukilteo Fire Marshal Jim Thomas has seen all kinds of YouTube-d lantern mishaps, but he isn’t laughing.

“It’s a flame that we in the fire service don’t like to see – something that’s not controlled,” he said.

Last month, Thomas persuaded the city council to pass the first local ban on sky lanterns. This week, Kittitas County followed suit.

“We haven’t had any problems yet and we don’t want any,” Thomas said.

Sky lanterns are easy to buy online, but are harder to find in stores. A Walmart spokesman told KIRO 7 the company decided to stop selling lanterns earlier this month.

Peter Hang said he doesn’t sell them in his International District store because of the potential danger.

“Some people come in to ask (about) them,” he said. “I know the item in China is popular.”

A few months ago, the state fire marshal sent out a bulletin about sky lanterns, which said they’re not covered by fireworks ordinances.

A spokesman with the Seattle Fire Department said the fire marshal has denied several permit requests for sky lanterns because they would violate several city fire codes.