AP debates banning sky lanterns

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK — The fire chief, with the help of city attorneys, has drafted a new city ordinance that would ban the use of sky lanterns in the city.

“After seeing some of the conversations on Facebook, I got a feeling from the community that it was something they wanted me to do,” Fire Chief Douglas Lafond said.

The city has had no major fires caused by sky lanterns but there have been some problems with them landing on cars, roofs and yards.

“We are being proactive,” Lafond said. “We are going to stop them before they start to become a problem.”

There have been multiple problems with sky lanterns across the country. In 2011, a lit sky lantern landed on a dry bush in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and burned 800 acres.

Currently sky lanterns are banned in Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Tennessee and South Carolina. They have even been banned in their founding city of Sanya, China, as they pose a danger and threat to the city and its nearby airport.

The lanterns are made of oiled rice paper and a bamboo frame, and a candle placed inside the lantern floats freely. If the wind blows just right, however, the flame hits the paper and it ignites, possibly causing devastation.

“At the very least, even if it does not cause a fire, it’s littering,” Lafond said. “After all, it has to fall somewhere.”

People were concerned that lanterns could not be banned because of recent fireworks legislation; however Lafond said, “They are not considered a firework. They are a novelty and therefore are not protected under the firework law in Michigan.”

The new ordinance was read twice at the City Council meeting on July 14. It has been posted in a newspaper for all residents to view and will be reread at the next city council meeting on July 28, so that residents have an opportunity to state their opinions on the matter before the council votes.

“Once it passes I plan on working with neighboring cities to get them to pass ordinances as well,” Lafond said, “because lanterns lit in other cities could land in Allen Park.”

(Charity B. Smith can be reached at charitybsmith@yahoo.com.)