The device resembles a small hot-air balloon, fuelled by a candle flame. When released the lanterns can fly to great heights and drift with the wind. The product is supposed to stay airborne until the heat source burns out. But the lanterns can not be controlled once released and may drift into trees, building rooftops, stubble fields and other combustible materials while the heat source is still burning – creating a significant fire hazard.
The lanterns are often released in large numbers for visual effect, increasing the risk. Sky lanterns were responsible for three fires in North Central Saskatchewan last summer. Fortunately the fires were small and did little damage. However, the potential for larger forest or field fires remains a very real threat – even after the unusually wet weather this year. It takes only a few days of sun and warm temperatures for the risk of wild fires to return.
The lanterns are available on-line from Canadian fireworks distributors and from local retailers.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is asking Fire Departments to caution members of their community about the potential fire risks of the flying lanterns. Retailers should be urged to stop selling the lanterns. Fire Departments are encouraged to visit parks and camp grounds in their district on occasions when family fireworks are usually set off – on Canada Day for example – to warn individuals and families of the potential fire hazard of the lanterns.