Fire marshal warns against sky lanterns, encourages fireworks safety

2012-07-03T08:00:00Z 2015-03-19T18:28:04Z Fire marshal warns against sky lanterns, encourages fireworks safetyBy JORDAN PASCALE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

You may see them -- a tiny blip of fire -- drifting along the night skies around the Fourth of July.

They're an age-old Chinese tradition but relatively new in the United States. At least one state senator wanted to make sky lanterns, tiny lit-on-fire hot air balloons, illegal in the state.

The bill stalled in the Legislature this year, so the lanterns are still legal.

But that doesn't mean they're not fire hazards,  state Deputy Fire Marshal Ray Nance said.

He said his office hadn't dealt with a fire related to the lanterns, but it has had citizens call about the potential for fires.

Nance tends to agree.

"Any time you have an item going in the air with fire burning on it -- whether it be a firework of some sort or sky lantern -- there is always concern that it could start a fire," Nance said.

That concern increases with the dry conditions in the state.

The lantern is made from paper wrapped around a light frame and has a small candle or fuel cell of a waxy flammable material that, when lit, heats the air inside and causes the lantern to rise. Once the flame dies out, the lantern floats back to the ground.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber became concerned after he found an extinguished lantern on his porch after Independence Day last year.

That incident -- and a request from a fireworks salesperson to get them banned in the state -- led to introduction of the bill.

"Many people thought it was going too far," Karpisek said of the bill that stalled. "Some people will swear it's the safest thing they sell … but there's going to be proof in the pudding when a field or someone's house starts on fire because of one."

He said he didn't plan to bring the bill back next year because of the backlash.

Ron Hinkley, a Lincolnite who sells the lanterns, told the Journal Star in February that he'd seen a few lanterns that got caught in trees or failed to fly because of too much wind, but there were no out-of-control fires or damage.

Another salesman, Todd Schlosser, said they were safe because the lanterns are made of flame-resistant paper and the cloth-wax fuel patches are made so they can't come loose after the lantern is launched.

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120, jpascale@journalstar.com or follow him @LJSPascale.

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