Oct 10, 2018

In recent years, sky lanterns have become a spectacle and a must-have during parties, festivities, and special occasions. But due to rising incidents of fire brought about by stray lanterns, the use of it has caused alarm among many, with some countries going as far as banning it completely.

Here in the Philippines, once in a while, one can see small patches of moving lights in the night sky. More alarmingly, some are using it in places where they shouldn’t be: in cramped urban spaces, where there is a huge chance that they will get entangled in electric wires, trees, and even invade buildings and houses and cause fires.

In Taiwan, the Pingxi Lantern Festival takes place during the Mid-Autumn festivities. The town employs a cleanup crew to look after stray sky lanterns and to pick up after the participants. Photo courtesy of John Shedrick on Flickr

In 2012, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) warned the public against the use of these sky lanterns during the New Year’s Eve celebration as these lanterns are usually made of combustible materials along with a fire source, which is usually a candle or fuel oil.

The warning came after the Metro Manila fire department, suspected that a sky lantern might have caused the fire that destroyed an apartment complex in Quezon City early on Christmas Day, killing a family of seven.


Incidents of fires started by stray sky lanterns are common in countries like China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong where the practice of releasing sky lanterns with their wishes during the last day of the Chinese New Year is customary.

This has long been an issue of contention among many locals as thousands of fires are recorded each year during the festivities related to sky lanterns.

But not just that, sky lanterns are notorious causes of litter all over the streets. Just imagine the streets of Manila a hours after the New Year countdown, but instead of busted firecrackers, there are trees on fire everywhere.

An alternative to balloons?

Some believe that sky lanterns are a much better alternative to fireworks and balloons which have a huge environmental impact as its debris can often pollute waters and threaten marine life.

Almost fifteen thousand sky lanterns were released for a new world record at the University of the Philippines Visayas campus in Miag-ao town in Iloilo to call for world peace through inner peace. Photo courtesy of Jo Haresh Tanodra for Inquirer.net

A year after the BFP issued a warning, the Philippines was awarded by the Guinness World Records for the most number of sky lanterns flown simultaneously. 15,185 sky lanterns were flown at the football pitch of the University of the Philippines-Visayas (UPV) beating the previous record set the year before by Romania with 12,740 lanterns.

The event organizers ensured that the venue was an open field with only trees surrounding the vicinity as well as mountains. They also claimed that the Thai-manufactured lanterns used in the event were made of rice paper with bamboo frames and did not use fuel oil but tissue paper dipped in wax.


A hidden deadly flaw

But despite efforts to lessen the environmental impact of sky lanterns along with the fire hazards it brings, one small problem remains which continue to cause even more damage most especially to living creatures.

An owl who died after being strangled by the debris of a sky lantern. Photo courtesy of The Guardian

The organizers of the record-breaking lantern event mentioned during an interview with the Inquirer that “the only metal material was the 1-mm wire used to secure the heat source.” That small wire is enough to cause trouble in itself.

In the United Kingdom, reports of farm animals, specifically poultry choking on these wires are a growing problem. The wires which fall on the ground and in some cases get mixed with the feed when ingested can cause internal bleeding in animals.

In other cases, the mere sight of a sky lantern ascending is enough to send chickens and other fouls into a frenzy.

And those are just the documented cases. One can only imagine the magnitude of those that go unnoticed like when the sky lanterns’ debris fall into bodies of water.

The next time you think of using sky lanterns for spectacle, keep in mind its hazards and the dangers they pose for the animals and the environment.


Header photo courtesy of Unsplash

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TAGS: animals fire hazard lantern festival sky lantern