19 September 2016

Tethered sky lanterns: what could possibly go wrong?

In Singapore, the fire authorities (SCDF) do not allow the release of sky lanterns. They do allow lighted sky lanterns but these must be tethered at all times. There must also be safety marshallers on site to prevent "intentional or inadvertent release" of lantern.
"People had trouble keeping the lanterns away from trees
because the field was surrounded by trees and they couldn’t
reel in the lanterns in time because they descended very quickly."
Photo from the Looking deeper into issues blog.
How do these rules work out on the ground? Here's some observations of a sky lantern event held last weekend on the Looking deeper into issues blog. The blog suggests such events should be "reconsidered in a densely built-up garden city such as Singapore."

The blog post says:
The event organized by 3PlayGrounds aimed to allow members of the public to sustainably “release” sky lantern by tethering them on a thin plastic string and using wax paper lanterns. They even had a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit for the event for any emergencies.

There were fire hazards everywhere! Lanterns landing on the grass when people couldn’t reel them in or catch them in time before the lantern with embers fell. Lanterns getting caught in the trees around the field and dispersing embers onto them. Many people had their hands very close to the fire in the lantern or touched a lantern that still had some embers and almost burnt their hands. There was also a toddler standing under the tree with a lantern caught on it and embers flying out of it. Thankfully, the tree didn’t catch fire.
Embers flying out from lantern onto a tree.
Photo from the Looking deeper into issues blog.

Lantern stuck high up in a tree.
Will birds and wildlife get entangled?
Photo from the Looking deeper into issues blog.

Here were some observations that were a little alarming:

  • 6 lanterns got stuck in the trees (most landed in the trees with embers flying out of the lantern and on the trees).
  • 1 lantern snapped and flew across the road into a forest patch (a.k.a Holland Woods forest).
  • Many of the lanterns ended up having burnt patches or having the string burnt off.
  • The lanterns burn for about 1-2 mins and descend very quickly which lead to people having trouble reeling it in time before it landed in a tree or on the grass.
  • The plastic string is very thin and in the darkness of the night, participants often stepped on the lines or got caught in them.

More background about sky lanterns

Here's the actual SCDF's rules on use of sky lanterns, which are stricter than CAAS rules
a. No free release of sky lantern or lanterns.
b. The lighted sky lantern shall remain tethered at all times.
c. The tethers used must be strong enough to prevent the lantern from breaking free.
d. An organiser is allowed up to 5 batches (i.e. 1 batch equates to 20 numbers of tethered sky lanterns).
e. Safety marshallers are to be present on-site to supervise and prevent the lanterns from being intentionally or inadvertently released into the air.
f. Safety marshallers shall be equipped with fire extinguishers to deal with fire-related contingencies.

Here's the CAAS rules on release of sky lanterns.

Here's some news articles about the impact of lanterns. They kill wildlife and start enormous fires in the UK.

Dead owl found trapped in Chinese lantern
BBC News 24 Oct 2011
An owl has been found dead apparently after becoming tangled up in a Chinese lantern at a Gloucestershire farm.

It was discovered on land at Breadstone near Berkeley on Wednesday. Farmer Simon Pain said he was "shocked" by the discovery of the barn owl, which he believed had been hunting for food near the grass margin of a field.

Spokesman for the National Farmers Union (NFU) Ian Johnson said: "Whilst these lanterns look very pretty there are unforeseen consequences." "We've been warning about about them for some time, certainly in terms of livestock," he added. "Now we can see what a hazard they are to wildlife as well."

Smethwick fire: Chinese lantern 'caused largest blaze'
BBC News, 1 July 2013
A huge fire involving 100,000 tonnes of plastic recycling material, thought to have been sparked by a Chinese lantern, has been contained say firefighters.

Crews described the blaze, which also involved a factory unit, as the largest they had seen in the West Midlands. More than 200 firefighters attended the fire in Smethwick. Three of them have been taken to hospital. The fire, which produced a 6,000ft smoke plume, is said to have caused £6m damage to the Jayplas depot.

Fire chiefs have now called for an "urgent review" into the use of Chinese lanterns.

Chinese Lanterns warning after one sets Dorset nature reserve on fire
Tristan Cork BBC News 27 Apr 2016

Fire chiefs have renewed warnings about Chinese Lanterns, after one landed on a heath in Dorset and sparked a major gorse fire. One firefighter described lighting and releasing Chinese Lanterns as 'basically throwing a naked flame into the sky', and fire brigades across the West have often called for people to stop using them.

No one knows who released a Chinese Lantern on Sunday evening near Wareham in Dorset, but when it landed, it set fire to the gorse on one of Dorset's key nature reserves, Hartland Moor. Fire crews from two towns, Wareham and Swanage, were summoned to put out the blaze, which affected an area more than 130ft across. They used beaters to damp down the flames and a hose reel to get to the seat of the blaze.

Related media article: Concerns arise over release of sky lanterns Audrey Tan Straits Times 17 Oct 16;

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