Posted by Gary | Posted in Sky Lanterns | Posted on 24-01-2011
Tags: chinese lanterns, sky candles, sky lanterns
Chinese sky lanterns are one of the latest crazes to ‘hit’ the West. Popular for centuries on the Asian continent these lights of the sky are now a staple at celebrations throughout the Western world. But many believe a heavy environmental price is paid for such beautiful spectacles. What are these concerns and do they hold any substance?
Those who are the most vocal about the potential hazards of sky lanterns come from the farming communities. And, when you see the problems many have faced with these lanterns you can understand why. Some manufacturers construct their lanterns using wire to hold the fuel cell in to place. The problem occurs once the lanterns have used their fuel and fall back down to the ground. This wire can be hazardous to livestock who can not only get their feet caught in the wires but also ingest it in it’s original form or if it accidentally gets chopped-up and put into their feed.
There is no doubting these wire sky lanterns present problems for livestock. However, responsible manufacturers and retailers are working to negate this by introducing wire-free lanterns. The difference is that instead of the fuel cells being held in place by wire, rope or bamboo are used instead. This means that should the lanterns descend on to land containing wildlife consuming the lanterns will not be life threatening. Of course, in an ideal scenario they wouldn’t end up on farm land anyway. But, is there any way to prevent them doing so?
It is not only farmers that wish to prevent these sky lanterns from entering their land. Many other organisations are caused problems by them. Airports report they lanterns blocking their flight paths, coastguards mistake them for distress flares, and some sky lanterns end up getting caught on power-lines and in trees. Can these problems be eradicated? In truth, nobody can guarantee issues won’t arise after a lantern has been released but steps can be taken to minimise potential problems.
What are the recommendations for responsibly launching a sky lantern safely? In essence the best advice would be to use common sense! Always have a fire extinguisher (or buckets of water) ready before using the lanterns. Do not leave children unattended with the lanterns and, don’t wear loose clothing that could accidentally be exposed to the flame. As the lanterns can stay afloat for up to 20 minutes it is best not to set them off within two miles of any of the places where they are reported to cause problems. For this reason it is also best to launch them on days with nothing stronger than a light breeze. This will stop them drifting too far away from source and minimise the risk posed to others.
There have also been concerns raised about the potential fire hazard caused by fallen lanterns. In 2010, a field in Oxfordshire caught ablaze after a lantern landed in it. Incident Commander John Nixon from the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said “Whilst we are happy for people to celebrate special occasions, they must consider the potential damage these lanterns can cause. We have had a particularly dry summer and it does not take much to set large areas of the countryside alight.” Could this have been prevented? During those dry summer days the lack of moisture in the air and on the ground leads to a higher probability of a fire occurring. For this reason it is recommended to use the lanterns on low humidity days. Whilst the risk of fire is not eradicated it is reduced.
So, are sky lanterns a safety hazard? In a nutshell, they can be. However, purchasing those that are degradable and without wire ensures no life threatening problems will be caused to livestock should they be consumed. And, with a bit of forethought, launching the lanterns at the right time and in the right location will minimise the potential problems caused to others. The lanterns do not have to pose a safety hazard and have been used in Asian celebrations for thousands of years. Let’s hope these beautiful ‘sky candles’ stay with us for just as long.
Gary Mullen from Sky Lanterns.
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