Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Wildfire Threat from Sky Lanterns

In my capacity as Vice-Chairman of the England & Wales Wildfire Forum, I contributed to the consultation about the threat posed by sky lanterns that was carried out for Defra by ADAS.  The consultation also covered helium balloons but my interest did not go beyond sky lanterns.  The report from the consultation has now been published and I am disappointed that Defra has not decided to take any positive action.

My concern stems from the wanton release of sky lanterns without any consideration being given to where they might land.  I accept that they look impressive, but I cannot accept that this is not without impact and cost on unconnected parties.  The ingestion of the remains by livestock has proved to be fatal, but of even more significance is the threat that lanterns pose through acting as ignition sources for wildfires.

In theory, the sky lantern stays airborne until the candle burns out and the lift of the hot gases is lost.  However, it has been shown that the canopies of sub-standard have failed which allows the lighted candle to fall to the ground.  This is a source of ignition that has caused wildfires with the associated threat to life and property and the increase in workload for the Fire & Rescue Services. this is a high price to pay for enjoyment.

The Farmers Guardian has published an article today that expresses concern about the lack of action from Defra to tackle this problem, and the comments from readers of the paper tell their own story.  An interesting comment is that if people were found dumping litter in the countryside they could be prosecuted but somehow sky lanterns are acceptable.  As the Farmers Guardian points out, sky lanterns have been banned in some countries and common sense would suggest that this at least ought to be considered in the UK.   I understand that even though most of the sky lanterns are manufactured in China, they have been banned in this country.

As an example of the absurdity of the current situation, in Dorset, the FRS reported that a lighted sky lantern drifted in through an open hotel window and started a fire.  While I may be viewed as a spoil sport, I find it difficult to support the indiscriminate release of incendiary devices without adequate precautions to make sure they do not cause damage.