Celebrations - Fire Lanterns

Chinese Flying Lantern (Image courtesy of Takeaway - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Takeaway)
Fire Lantern (Image courtesy of Takeaway)

Fire Lanterns are becoming commonly used within the UK during celebrations for many events including Chinese New Year, weddings, birthdays and other occasions within our local communities. In Eastern cultures they have been traditionally released to bring good luck and prosperity and can also be known by other names including sky lanterns, Chinese lanterns, floating lanterns, Thai lanterns,  Koom Fay / Khom Loy (Thailand) and sky candles.

These lanterns are becoming increasingly available within the UK despite the fact that some international countries are introducing a ban on their sale and use as a result of safety concerns. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service understand the reasons for such concerns and do not therefore support the sale or use of such lanterns within the UK.

Construction and dimensions of these lanterns differ between manufacturers but commonly consist of a lightweight structure composed of waxed paper, fine wooden frame or hoop and a fuel source supported by a wire frame, although recently ‘wire-free’ models have been introduced on general sale. The fuel source is ignited which leads to a ‘hot air balloon’ effect of a naked flame fueling the lantern, which then becomes airborne in an uncontrolled flight path, fully dependent upon prevailing wind conditions.

This uncontrolled flight brings with it a number of significant risks which TWFRS consider outweigh any potential benefit of using these lanterns. These include:

  • Accidental ignition of the waxed paper during the launch procedure leading to fire or injury to the operator.

  • Ignition of the lantern during flight leading to an uncontrolled descent and potential ignition of the surface landing material.

  • Ignition of trees, roofs, buildings, fences, grass or heathland as a result of contact or collision with these during flight.

  • Ignition of materials or burns to animals at landing point as a result of smouldering debris following the scheduled burn.

  • Injuries or death to cattle and domestic animals as a result of the discarded wire frame used in construction of the lantern

The above risks are real and due to the uncontrolled nature of operation of these lanterns, and the extended period in which their remains continue to smoulder on landing, they are very likely to occur during normal use. Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service do not recommend the use of these under any circumstances and would urge all organisations and individuals to consider the potential damage which could result as a consequence of their use, and employ alternative means by which to celebrate their events.

Whilst TWFRS do not support the purchase or use of these types of lantern, we cannot prevent the public from doing so and would therefore advise that the following guidance is adhered to;

Lantern safety

Wire support used in the construction of a number of lanterns presents a real danger of injury or death to animals and livestock. If you are intent on using lanterns, ensure that you source the ‘wire-free’ type which whilst still presenting a real fire risk, will remove the potential for animals to swallow harmful metalwork.

Manufacturer’s guidance and instructions should be read carefully prior to use and strictly adhered to.

General advice

  • Consider the environment! – Bio-degradable lanterns are available

  • Lanterns should be used by responsible adults only

  • Adults should not be under the influence of alcohol or any substance that could affect their level of responsibility

  • Ensure water or other extinguishing media is available at the launch site, in case of clothing, lanterns or nearby materials catch fire.

  • Keep the launch area clear of all combustible materials

  • Children and other observers should remain at a safe distance from the launch site, upwind to prevent any contact with the airborne lantern

  • Ensure that 2 responsible adults prepare, light and launch the lantern

  • Damaged lanterns become unsafe – destroy all damaged units

  • Do not add any additional decoration or writing; this may reduce the limited integrity of a lantern

  • Do not smoke whilst handling lanterns

Launch conditions and area

  • Ensure sufficient clearance to avoid all obstacles including trees, buildings, overhead cables and power lines

  • Avoid launching near roads, especially major roads or motorways

  • Avoid standing crops and grassland, especially in dry conditions

  • Avoid areas that may allow confusion with distress signals

  • Avoid areas within 5 miles of livestock/cattle

  • Do not launch within 5 miles of any airport

  • Do not launch in wind speeds in excess of 5 mph

  • Check wind direction before launch

  • Be aware of any other local conditions that could affect launch or landing safety such as thatched buildings, standing crops or dry heath land

Launch procedure

Strictly follow manufacturer’s guidance and operating procedures prior to igniting and launch. 

In any circumstances, a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks associated with the activity should be carried out before it is undertaken.