Flying lanterns a fire hazard for cottages

Flying lanterns

If there is one thing that has lit a fire under cottagers, it’s fire raining down from the sky.

“What kind of idiot would set an uncontrolled flame floating over cottages and forests to land who knows where?” asks Terry Rees in reference to the popular airborne lanterns that are powered by an open flame in the bottom, much like a hot air balloon. Also known as Chinese, sky, and flying lanterns, they are often released, dozens at a time, at weddings and other parties.

In northwestern Ontario, the Lake of the Woods District Property Owner’s Association has called for a ban on the lanterns, which can burn for up to 20 minutes, “long enough on a breezy evening to take them well into the forest or onto neighbouring rooftops,” says Susan McLeod, executive director of the 4,000-member association. Rees, who is the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, experienced this phenomenon first hand when a lantern floated over his cottage one evening during a fire ban last year. “I had visions of it landing on our tinder-dry roof,” he says.

McLeod has started a Facebook campaign that has caught the attention of local media, and plans to lobby for a provincial ban. (Listen to Susan McLeod’s interview with CBC Radio here.) The lanterns are already restricted or outlawed in some U.S. states, and, in the UK, agriculture minister David Heath has launched a study into the effects the lanterns have on the environment and livestock such as cows, which eat the discarded wire frames. They are illegal in Australia, Brazil, and some parts of Germany.