Floating lanterns can pose a danger

Sky lanterns – essentially miniature hot-air balloons constructed of plastic or paper bags and sent aloft with tea lights – can be an interesting sight individually and a visually stunning flotilla.

Unfortunately, they also pose a floating fire hazard. That is why fire officials in the United States want them to be banned.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals considers them uncontrolled fire hazards, driven by the wind to an uncontrolled decent.

“You have no control over where it lands,” the association’s president, New Hampshire Fire Marshal Bill Degnan, told The Associated Press.

For example, a sky lantern reportedly ignited a fire at a plastic recycling plant in Britain last July, causing $9 million in damage.

People who make and sell the lanterns say they can be made from biodegradable material, and can be safe if used correctly.

“The lantern can only come down once the wick has gone out,” one retailer told The AP. “The lantern will come back without any burning parts.”

But that’s not always true. Last spring, lanterns were launched as part of a local fundraiser. About a dozen landed in a wheat field downwind, and not all the candles had burned out.

If the lanterns had landed there a month later, when the wheat was ripe, a field fire likely would have been ignited. And what would happen during dry stretches of fall weather if a lit lantern were to land in a forest?

State fire marshals are on the right track in seeking to ban the use of the lanterns.