UK officials ask public to avoid paper lanterns

British fire officers call on public to avoid using paper lanterns following large blaze

Associated Press
UK officials ask public to avoid paper lanterns
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FILE - This is a Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 file photo of South Koreans as they release paper lanterns to celebrate the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, in Yongin, South Korea. A paper lantern which sparked a huge fire in central England has ignited calls among British firefighters for people not to use them. The Chief Fire Officers’ Association said in a statement Tuesday July 2, 2013 that paper lanterns _heated by candles and launched into the air during celebrations can cause significant damage. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

LONDON (AP) -- Top British fire officials are calling on the public to avoid using paper lanterns after one such contraption sparked a huge and costly fire in central England.

The Chief Fire Officers' Association said in a statement Tuesday that paper lanterns — which are heated by candles and launched into the air during celebrations — pose a threat to people and livestock and can cause significant property damage.

Video evidence showed that a big blaze at a plastic recycling plant near Birmingham on Monday was started by a paper lantern that floated over the site, causing 6 million pounds ($9.1 million) in damage.

Paper lanterns are popular in many countries but have been banned in most of Germany and also in parts of the United States, where they are seen as a fire hazard and even a possible threat to aircraft.

Chief fire officer Vij Randeniya said the fire department wants to educate the British public that the lanterns posed a "significant danger" to the area around them.

"If you put fire into the sky, it'll start a fire," said Randeniya, who added that he expected other major fires to be caused by the lanterns.

In a statement, Prime Minister David Cameron's office said it is working to raise public awareness of the risks of sky lanterns, but that only a "tiny percentage" (0.2 percent) of outdoor fires were paper lantern- related.

The lanterns, typically made of oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, are fueled by a lit candle or fuel cell which causes them to soar into the sky. They are traditionally lit in central and eastern China on 'Lantern Day,' which is 15 days after Chinese New Year.

Some states and counties in the U.S. have banned paper lanterns, including Hawaii and Kittitas County, Washington. Last year, a lantern started a 1-acre wildfire in southern Utah, prompting calls to ban them throughout the state.

Fire officers also claimed that as well as being a fire hazard to everything from thatched roofs to hazardous waste, paper lanterns pose a risk to livestock due the metal wire used to construct them.

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