05 July 2013

Northamptonshire's Arson Task Force is warning local residents about floating lanterns following the fire at a Smethwick recycling plant last weekend.

The fire, which is thought to be one of the largest ever in the West Midlands and injured ten firefighters, was caused by a floating lantern.

The Arson Task Force – a partnership between Northamptonshire County Council’s fire and rescue service and Northamptonshire Police, strongly advise that people stop using floating lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns.

What are floating lanterns?

These miniature hot air balloons are constructed of paper, wire and bamboo with a fuel cell attached and hung beneath the paper balloon. When the fuel is lit, the hot air inflates the balloon and it floats into the sky.

Why are floating lanterns dangerous?

These lanterns have the potential to damage, injure or kill. They have been known to fall from the sky in flames and can ignite any combustible material, such as a thatched roof or garden.

The Arson Task Force has been highlighting the dangers of these lanterns since 2009 and there have been many incidents in the county over the last four years, including:

  • An incident last year where a lantern set fire to the guttering of a three-storey block of flats in Northampton.
  • A flaming lantern landed on the roof of a vehicle resulting in paint damage.
  • A lantern that fell from the sky and set fire to some garden furniture.
  • A report of washing on a rotary dryer set on fire by a lantern.
  • In East Northamptonshire, an animal had to be put down after ingesting some wire from a lantern which had landed in field.

Fire and rescue service head of community services Mark Ainge said: “We don’t want to be killjoys, but we do have serious concerns over the use of these lanterns and strongly advise everyone to act responsibly and stop using these dangerous items.

“They can travel as far as 15 miles, so even if you think you are releasing one in a ‘safe’ area, you don’t know where they will land. It’s also worth knowing that public liability insurance and licensing conditions may not cover the release of floating lanterns at organised events.

“We are monitoring incidents in the county and are continually gathering the evidence with the aim of having them banned in the UK, as they are already banned in other countries.

"It’s just a matter of time before they cause a serious incident in Northamptonshire.”