Flying Lanterns

Introduction

Flying Lanterns, also known as 'Chinese lanterns' or 'sky lanterns' are airborne paper lanterns, constructed from rice paper on a bamboo or wire frame.  They contain a small candle or fuel cell and when lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, which lowers its density causing the lantern to rise into the air.  The lantern is only airborne for as long as the flame stays alight, after which the lantern floats back to the ground.

In July 2013 The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) issued a position statement on the subject:

“CFOA does not support the use of these devices and asks members of the public and event organisers to refrain from using them.  Whilst these lanterns are undoubtedly a popular and beautiful sight, the potential damage they can cause is significant”.

The Chief Fire Officers' Association is calling for an urgent review on the use of the floating paper lanterns as they operate in a unregulated and uncontrolled way.

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service also does not endorse the use of flying lanterns but have provided this guidance to assist you to safely enjoy their use should you choose to do so. No liability is accepted for any injury, loss or damage that may arise from their use.

  • Between September 2008 and January 2012 CFRS has attended 14 incidents directly related to flying lanterns

During July 2011, the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) were asked by various media contacts to provide information on incidents caused as a result of Flying or Chinese Lanterns.

  • 42 Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) responded to the call for information (70%)
  • Out of the 42 FRSs that responded, 30 said they had had incidents/call outs caused by Flying Lanterns (71%)

There is now video evidence of a lantern causing a major fire in the West Midlands which had required 200+ firefighters, 39 fire appliances and 3 hydraulic platforms.

Police and coastguards also suffer a loss of resources whilst having to deal with lantern sightings being mistaken as something else such as a distress flair or UFO. 

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service in conjunction with our colleagues in Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team would like retailers and importers in the UK to take the lead and demand that the lanterns they purchase from manufacturers are:

  • 100% bio-degradable and wire free
  • Provided with a high quality fuel source
  • Supplied with comprehensive operating and safety instructions

We would also like to see the information contained in the safety leaflet given prominence on websites, in catalogues and where possible at other points of sale.

Event organisers (and/or managers of venues) are subject to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 must ensure that a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been completed prior to allowing the launch of flying lanterns.  They are further advised to check with their insurance providers that subsequent use will not adversely affect their insurance arrangements or if additional insurance cover will be required.

‘Flying Lanterns’ have the potential to set fires should a burning fuel cell come into contact with combustible material such as crops, gorse, grassland and wooden structures.

A recent incident occurred in the West Midlands where it is alleged that use of these lanterns caused a serious fire in a plastics factory.

Considerations when assessing the risk:

  • These flying lanterns not only constitute a fire hazard but also pose a risk to livestock, agriculture, camping activities, thatched properties and hazardous material sites
  • Fuel cells are likely to have glowing embers after the flame has ceased
  • Glowing embers may fall from the fuel cell after flames have almost ceased and continue to fall until completely exhausted
  • The wooden ring at the base of the lantern paper will ignite if exposed to a naked flame
  • Burning fuel may drip or spill from the cell
  • Wind will have a large influence on the distance and direction the lantern will travel

The following guidance is provided to aid the assessment of risk when using flying lanterns. Users should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

General Considerations:

  • Do not launch a lantern if any part is damaged
  • Read and follow operating instructions very carefully
  • Ideally a lantern should be launched by two adults. It is not suitable for children under 16 and is not a toy
  • Adults should not launch lanterns whilst under the influence of alcohol or any other substance that could affect their level of responsibility
  • At the launch have a fire extinguisher or water nearby
  • Children and other observers should maintain a safe distance upwind of the launch area
  • Do not smoke whilst handling lanterns
  • Ensure sufficient clearance to avoid obstacles such as trees, power lines or buildings
  • Do not launch in built up areas
  • Avoid launching near roads, especially major roads or motorways
  • Avoid standing crops, especially in dry conditions
  • Avoid areas that may cause confusion with distress signals
  • Always inform Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service if you are intending to release lanterns, telephone Fire Control on 01872 320205
  • If you are near the coast, we recommend that you notify local coast guard or life boat services that you will be launching flying lanterns because flying lanterns floating out to sea have sometimes been mistaken for distress signals from vessels in distress
  • Do not launch within 5 miles of any airport (If you intend to use any lantern within a 5 mile radius of an airport, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be notified under their procedures for organised firework displays (Notification System to Airmen or NOTAM)
  • Do not launch in wind speeds in excess of 5 mph
  • Check the wind direction prior to any launch
  • Be aware of any other local conditions that could affect the launch or safe landing of a lantern such as thatched buildings, standing crops, dry heathland