A device that’s become popular at weddings and parties is raising some concern over its potential to cause fires. Cedar Rapids Public Safety spokesman, Greg Buelow, says the use of sky lanterns or Chinese lanterns have prompted some calls. “Over the Fourth of July weekend and then there were some weddings over the past weekend where sky lanterns were deployed and a couple of them came down over people’s roofs still lit,” Buelow says.
The lanterns have a candle inside that is lit. “What they’re designed to do is heat up, go up into the sky and then they burn out,” Buelow says. “But sometimes with the wind, it can carry them and they are still lit. And actually the walls or the outside that are made of thin paper can catch on fire.”
He says it’s not an issue unique to eastern Iowa. “The fire marshal here in Cedar Rapids indicated that other fire marshals throughout the state have had some concerns about this as well. Most jurisdictions have adopted the international fire code, so it would be a violation. Basically you are lighting something up and allowing it to go up without any control,” Buelow says.
There are also concerns beyond the possibility of a fire. “Some of the ones that are made of wire have been documented in other states to have killed livestock out in the fields, so it’s another concern to think about,” according to Buelow. He says they have not had any reports of livestock deaths in his area. Buelow says the lanterns have become trendy. “I don’t want to necessarily blame movies, but there are some popular movies out there right now that some of the main scenes and the characters they’ll be out on a boat and when they have a wedding or romantic scenes, they’ll put out the sky lanterns and have them go up into the sky as part of the festival or tradition,” Buelow says.
He says things can be made worse if people use the lanterns when it is windy. “We don’t want to discourage people from having fun or enjoying some of the most important days of their lives like weddings and festivals,” he says, “but we ask people to be concerned about what’s going to happen if those do land on rooftops, or in trees, or in power lines, or in dry vegetation like pastures.” Buelow says the lanterns can travel over one mile in some cases. He says some other states have tried requiring a tether line to the lanterns, but that has not proved to work very well.