OMP friend and neighbor Dawn Asava sent me a note that she recently found three Chinese lanterns on her property near Bowers Harbor. One lantern was burned pretty badly, and she found them in some very dry areas, including an area with dry leaves.
Sometimes called “sky lanterns,” “fire balloons,” or Kongming lanterns, these are those small hot air balloons made of paper, with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.
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They’re often launched as part of festivities or remembrances, but since we’re talking paper combined with fire, landing who knows where – like Dawn’s dry leaves – they can be dangerous, too.
I Googled around and found some info about Chinese lanterns. In typical designs, as long as the lantern stays upright, the paper won’t get hot enough to ignite. But if the lantern is tilted – say by wind or bumping into something – it might catch fire while still in the air. The paper will usually burn in a few seconds, but the flame source might remain until it hits the ground, making it a fire hazard. And we all know how dry and hot it’s been on the Old Mission Peninsula this summer.
Chinese lanterns also pose a danger to aircraft, and while some lanterns are made of biodegradable material, the ones with a thin wire frame will rust away slowly on the ground, causing a hazard to animals.
Just think about this: On July 1, 2013, the largest fire ever in the West Midlands of England, involving 100,000 tons of recycling material and causing an estimated six million pounds worth of damage, was started by a Chinese lantern at a plastics recycling plant.
Chinese lanterns are beautiful – have you seen that scene in the movie “Tangled”? Gives me goosebumps – but consider alternatives, like floating flowers or petals down a river or sending giant bubbles into the wind, like these eco-friendly ones from Dr. Zigs. Check out some other ideas here.
Your neighbors and the Peninsula Fire Department thank you.