Chinese lanterns (also known as wish, sky or flying lanterns) have origins that go back thousands of years, and they have become increasingly popular as a way of celebrating weddings, birthdays, anniversaries or other special events.
However, there is a high risk of fire from using such lanterns, either through incorrect handling, unspent fuel cells or unexpected flight patterns.
The lanterns are generally made from paper, supported by a wire or card frame that incorporates a holder at the bottom for a solid fuel cell. The paper outer may or may not be fire retardant. Flying times suggested by manufacturers vary from 6-8 minutes and up to 20 minutes, with achievable heights claimed to be up to one mile.
Whilst lighting and launch are largely in the control of the user, the actual flight path and ultimate destination are generally not. There is also no guarantee that the fuel cell will be fully extinguished and cooled when the lantern eventually descends, and any subsequent contact with a combustible surface could result in a fire developing.
It is best to avoid using Chinese lanterns if you are near:
- Areas with standing crops.
- Buildings with thatched roofs.
- Areas of dense woodland.
- Areas of heath or bracken, especially in dry conditions.
- 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.
- When launching the lanterns, make sure you have a water supply to hand in case something goes wrong.
- Keep the launch area clear of combustible materials.
- Don’t try and launch damaged lanterns – and be aware that writing messages on the paper can cause damage.
- Don’t smoke whilst handling lanterns.
- Ensure that there is sufficient clearance for the lanterns to avoid obstacles such as trees, power lines or buildings.
- Avoid launching lanterns near roads, especially major roads or motorways, as they can be off-putting to drivers.
- Don’t try and launch lanterns if it is windy, and be sure of the wind direction as this will affect the flight path.