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Users could be prosecuted and held liable for damages; sky lanterns have caused fires and serious harm elsewhere

By Miriam Raftery

July 27, 2017 (Lake Morena Village) – Residents in Lake Morena Village are fired up over dangers posed by illegal sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, launched in the area in recent weeks.  Sky lanterns are illegal in at least 30 states, including California due to fire dangers.

Claudia Millerbragg, moderator of the Campo-Lake Morena Neighborhood Watch Forum, says she found one in her yard about three months ago. Since then, she told East County Magazine,  “Community members have seen four different ones in the sky in the past couple of weeks. Usually Saturday night.”

Millerbragg says she spoke with Captain Cox at the Lake Morena Fire Station.  “This is what he stated,” she posted on the Neighborhood Watch Facebook page yesterday. “1. If a fire lantern lands in your yard, pick it up with gloves on and put in a paper bag. Call the station or main Calfire number. 2. Video any lantern being lit or just leaving property. Call 911. And it is against the law to fire off the lantern.”

An East County Magazine investigation in 2012 resulted in removal of sky lanterns for sale at Walmart stores and issuance of a warning by the state Fire Marshal as well as notice by San Diego fire officials that such items are illegal under local laws as well as state statutes. James Pine, fire marshall for San Diego County Fire Authority at that time, said CFC Sec. 308 1.6 prohibits “open flame devices” in areas at risk for wildfire.    (  But use of the devices persisted despite the statewide ban, our followup report found, prompting additional warnings from local fire officials.

But problems continue in California and elsewhere.

Sky lanterns, which include a candle sent aloft beneath an open cloth, operating much like a hot air balloon, have actually caused many fires and other problems when they came back to earth. Wildland Fire has documented many of these incidents:

  • A 2016 fire damaged a four-plex housing unit in Santa Rosa, California after a sky lantern landed on the roof.  Fire officials there said it was the second fire in a short time-frame caused by a sky lantern.
  • In 2013, a sky lantern landed in a recycling facility in West Midlands, England, causing 6 million British pounds worth of damage.
  • A sky lantern released to celebrate a 2016 wedding in New Zealand set a nearby house on fire.
  • A 2011 wildfire caused by a sky lantern in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina burned 800 acres.
  • In England, a boy was burned by hot wax from a sky lantern in 2010.
  • Three cows in England died agonizing deaths after ingesting wires from fallen sky lanterns and suffering internal bleeding, the Daily Mail reported in the same article that reported the wax injury.
  • A family in Michigan suffered injuries in 2012 when they veered to avoid a sky lantern that fell in the roadway.
  • In Anchorage, Alaska an airport had to reroute multiple flights after sky lanterns released by a church flew into the airspace, posing risks of potentially deadly collisions.

On the Campo-Lake Morena Neighborhood Watch site, residents voiced anger at whoever has been releasing the flaming lanterns and hope that the culprit or culprits will soon be caught before a stray lantern causes a major fire or injures anyone.

“It could easily start a fire and burn this village down,” Millerbragg posted.

“The bill for starting the fire can be paid with any money they earn in prison and the civil suits take any belongings they have for restitution,” another person wrote.

Some on the forum  questioned whether releasing the lanterns could be intentional acts of arson. Others suggested the culprits are simply ignorant.

“Too bad there’s not a vaccine for stupidity,” one resident observed.

The California State Fire Marshall’s statement released in 2012 indiacated, “There is a serious fire and safety hazard associated with sky lanterns, which include the potential to start an unintended fire on or off the property from which they are released. “

His statement cited  that  these regulations which prohibit use of fire lanterns:

Cailfornia’s  Code of Regulations Title 19, Section 3.14 "No person, including but not limited to the State and its political subdivisions, operating any occupancy subject to these regulations shall permit any fire hazard, as defined in this article, to exist on premises under their control, or fail to take immediate action to abate a fire hazard when requested to do so by the enforcing agency."

Note: “Fire Hazard” as used in these regulations means any condition, arrangement, or act which will increase, or may cause an increase of, the hazard or menace of fire to a greater degree than customarily recognized as normal by persons in the public service of preventing, suppressing or extinguishing fire; or which may obstruct, delay, or hinder,. or may become the cause of obstruction, delay or hindrance to the prevention, suppression, or extinguishment of fire. 

Health and Safety Code, Section 13001 - Causing Fire, Misdemeanor Every person is guilty of a misdemeanor who, through careless or negligent action, throws or places any lighted cigarette, cigar, ashes, or other flaming or glowing substance, or any substance or thing which may cause a fire, in any place where it may directly or indirectly start a fire, or who uses or operates a welding torch, tar pot or any other device which may cause a fire who does not clear the inflammable material surrounding the operation or take such other reasonable precautions necessary to insure against the starting and spreading of fire.

A fire or other injury caused by a sky lantern could result in prosecution to hold the individual who released the lantern  liable for damages caused. A person who causes harm via a fire lantern could also be subject to criminal prosecution.