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Airborne Paper Lanterns, Banned In State, Behind Recent Sonoma County Fires

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Paper Lanterns

Paper lanterns in Bangkok, Thailand. (Burak Akbulut/Getty Images)

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PETALUMA (CBS SF) — Sonoma County’s fire prevention officers are warning residents about the illegal use of sky lanterns that have started a number of vegetation fires.

The lanterns, also called floating, wishing or celebration lanterns, are airborne paper lanterns typically made of oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, said Corrine Barclay, fire and hazardous materials inspector with the Petaluma Fire Department.

The lanterns contain a small candle or fuel cell made of waxy flammable material that heats the air inside the lantern and causes it to rise into the air.

The lanterns can travel long distances and may land when the flame is still burning or when the flame source is still hot creating a fire hazard, Barclay said.

The lanterns are illegal in California, and are banned in New Hampshire, Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina, Hawaii, Utah, Tennessee and Virginia.

Anyone in California found using a lantern that starts a fire can be held liable for damage and the cost of fire and emergency services responding to the fire, Barclay said.

The sky lanterns also pose hazards to aviation and vehicular traffic, and the Federal Aviation Association is concerned about the lanterns getting sucked into the engines of aircraft, Barclay said.

“Locally we have seen the increased use of sky lanterns at weddings and other celebrations,” Barclay said. “Not being aware of the laws doesn’t exclude you from the liability.”

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