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Pretty, but potentially hazardous

Area farmers, fire officials share concerns about sky lanterns


ABOVE: Aerial luminaries are sent off toward the sky during this observance last year in Logan County. (EXAMINER FILE PHOTO | JOEL E. MAST) BELOW: Middleburg area farmer Carol Losey sits Friday in his John Deere utility vehicle that he used to pick up about 50 sky lanterns that fell on his hay field by County Road 153 two weeks ago. (EXAMINER PHOTO | MANDY LOEHR)


Lighting sky lanterns and sending hundreds of the floating orbs into the air seems to be an idyllic and increasingly popular way to mark various occasions, from capping off wedding receptions to remembering loved ones at memorial services.

While a beautiful scene is created when the lanterns fill the night sky, area farmers and public safety officials are concerned about the potential danger of this practice, both for the possible fire hazard it creates and also for the risk it poses to cattle.

The luminaries, which also are called Chinese lanterns, operate much like a hot air balloon. They are made out of a paper shell wrapped around a thin wire frame and contain a candle or fuel cell at the base.

When lit, the heated air is trapped within the lantern, causing it to rise into the air. The luminary is only airborne for as long as the flame stays lit, after which the lantern descends back to the ground.

About two weeks ago, Middleburg area farmer Carol Losey was surprised to find approximately 50 of these lanterns that had landed in his hay field near County Road 153.

He and his wife, Charolet, then spent about a half day cleaning up the debris.

However, a potential crisis was averted because their hay field had just been cut and harvested three days prior to that date.

“If the lanterns had landed three days sooner, we would have had to destroy the hay,” Mr. Losey said. “We could have been looking at a loss of between $15,000 to $20,000. This could have been a disaster for us.”

He explained the paper part of the lantern is not so much a concern for farmers, but instead the metal wiring inside the device that would have gotten chopped up during the harvesting.

“The hay is feed for our cows, and if a cow eats just a little piece of metal, it is fatal for them. It’s something that we have to guard against.”

Issues relating to the increasing usage of the Chinese lanterns and the potential hazards also were voiced at this week’s Logan County Farm Bureau breakfast meeting.

Several other local farmers reported the potential fire hazards of the floating devices that have landed near their hay barns.

Huntsville area farmer Jerry Fry, who also is the farm bureau president, said he tends to find several lanterns on his fields each year.

“I think it’s something that people need to think about before they set them off,” he said. “Although the lanterns seem harmless, you don’t have any control over where they will land.

“And while the paper on the lanterns will rot down, the little piece of wiring could be there for years.”

Citing risks for injuries and fires, several states have enacted bans on the use, distribution and retail sale of sky lanterns.

Illinois implemented such a ban last month, and other states outlawing the practice include New Hampshire, California, Minnesota, South Carolina, Hawaii, Utah, Tennessee and Virginia, according to an online article in the Chillicothe Times Bulletin in Illinois,

In Ohio, the aerial luminaries are classified a flame-effect device and there are rules and regulations governing their use, Bellefontaine Fire Shief J.P. Schulz said.

With the approaching July 4 holiday, the fire chief said the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office recently sent out information regarding Chinese lanterns.

While it is legal to purchase or possess the sky lanterns in Ohio, the lighting and dispersing of the lanterns must be conducted by someone who has been licensed by the state, he noted. In addition, when a lantern send-off is planned, a permit should be obtained through a local fire department.

“A licensed technician is required to light the lanterns,” Chief Schulz said. “If you release the lantern too soon after lighting it, this can cause a safety issue.”

Wind and other weather conditions can also make lighting the lanterns dangerous.

Thus far, the fire chief said he has not seen any issues in the city caused by the lighted lanterns. Recent call logs from the Logan County Sheriff’s Office also did not indicate that any fire departments had been dispatched to fires caused by the luminaries.

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