I get nervous everytime I see someone set off a chinese lantern. I mean this is a naked flame being sent off wherever the wind cares to take it. It could land anywhere. Theoretically, they come down when they have burnt out but it certainly isn’t always the case. However, I had never researched my fears – now I have.
I had wondered if I was being a bit paranoid, afterall so many people set them off, why weren’t they worried? But just a quick search on google revealed numerous fires caused by chinese lanterns. A serious fire on sand dunes, a car fire, a garden shed fire that narrowly avoided spreading to a house, a house that caught fire with the family sleeping inside, and a man injured when one landed on his head (a lantern not a house).
I have been to a campsite where they advise that chinese lanterns should only be used when the wind is blowing in a certain direction, in this case towards the sea. I remember feeling a little mollified by this sage advice, however, I have just discovered the coast guard is not keen on them either as they have been mistaken for distress flares. Farmers dislike them because the wire can get caught up by harvesters and end up in cattle feed, and because fields of crops have caught fire. The fire service has warned that they are a hazard.
Thousands of these pretty lanterns have been set off over the last few years and I suspect it is the numbers that have made the risk significant. Evidently, most lanterns complete their illuminated journey with no tragic end. But a significant minority cause real danger and suffering. Are those few moments of prettiness really worth it? I think not.