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Sky lanterns – safety tips

Sky lanterns – safety tips

22 September 2014

Sky lanterns are popular at festivals, weddings, and remembrance ceremonies. While they appear beautiful while floating in the night sky, care should be taken when releasing them.

Sky lanterns are essentially a small hot air balloon made of paper with an opening at the bottom where a tea light is suspended.

Although there are no restrictions in place in New Zealand, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Trading Standards team has issued advice on releasing them.

Trading Standards advises that sky lanterns should only be released in still conditions and away from any homes or other obstacles.

Trading Standards Principal Advisor, Martin Rushton said that while sky lanterns are very attractive when flying, people should think twice before lighting them, as there is a real risk or injury or damage.

“Care should be taken with anything that contains a naked flame,” said Mr Rushton.

“Many sky lantern suppliers have a disclaimer that they have no responsibility for accidents or injury caused and that anyone releasing lanterns, which cause a fire, could be liable.

“Consumers should keep this in mind when they release the lanterns, as they may be responsible for the costs,” said Mr Rushton.

For instance, New Zealand law places responsibility for the cost of fire damage and fire suppression in rural areas on the person who started the fire. This can run into many thousands of dollars.

Some issues with sky lanterns include:

Fire risk - there is evidence in other countries that the use of sky lanterns has caused fires at certain times of year when vegetation and weather conditions have made sites vulnerable to fire. They may also land on, and ignite flammable materials.

Not biodegradable - while the paper can degrade, some lanterns are made with wire. There are some without wire that use cane, wool, or string – but these still take time to degrade and could cause issues with littering, as well as for livestock.

Dangers to livestock - there have been examples of cattle and sheep eating the lanterns and wire. This has caused injury to stomachs and mouths. There are recorded cases in the UK of animal deaths from internal injury.

Could be confused with distress flares - the UK Coastguard has been called out on false alarms when lanterns have been confused with distress flares.

Here are some safety tips when using sky lanterns:

• Flying sky lanterns could be mistaken for a distress signal, so inform the coastguard if launching in a coastal location.

• Ensure all those involved in lighting and launching the sky lantern are over 18 years old. Children should not light, launch, or play with sky lanterns.

• Check weather conditions and only release in still conditions.

• Choose a wide open space, and ensure there are no obstacles close to the launch site (especially downwind or above) like buildings, trees, overhead cables, or pylons.

• Have water, sand, or a fire extinguisher to hand.

• Inspect the sky lantern for tears or any damage before use.

• Stand upwind of the sky lantern and have all bystanders do likewise.

• Do not launch near sites where there may be inflammable liquids or gases.

• Do not launch within 5 km of an airport.

Need more information?

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