Alarm at 'lethal' lanterns

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:49 14/02/2013
John Foley
Scott Hammond

Bad idea: Marlborough deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley says Chinese lanterns are particularly dangerous in a place as dry as Marlborough.

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Chinese lanterns have the potential to be "bloody lethal" in Marlborough, senior firefighters say.

Marlborough principal rural fire officer Richard McNamara said the lanterns, which could be bought online, were dangerous.

"All you need is a windy night in a fire-prone environment such as Marlborough and there's potential for a huge fire to kick off," he said. "They're bloody lethal."

The lanterns float on the hot air generated by a burning fuel cell in the base. When all goes well, the lantern floats back to earth after the fuel has been used and the flame has gone out.

However, firefighters are concerned they could blow into the hills while still burning, or still be hot enough once they hit the ground to ignite dry grass.

"They sell them on the romance of it," Mr McNamara said. "But if that came down on your house or guttering where the dry leaves have collected and you lose your house in a fire, how much romance is there then?"

Marlborough deputy principal rural fire officer John Foley said the lanterns may not pose a risk in some countries, but they could be a disaster in Marlborough.

"If one of these came down on the dry grass in the Wither Hills, we could have another fire."

In January, three people reported seeing a hot air balloon and basket on fire blowing towards the Wither Hills but police and firefighters could not find any trace of it.

A few days later, a large Chinese lantern was found wrapped around a fence in Alabama Rd.

Mr McNamara said a huge amount of Fire Service and police time could be wasted by people letting off the lanterns. "They thought it was a flaming hot balloon or an aircraft. There's no perspective in the sky - it could be 100 metres or two kilometres away."

According to the BBC, the lanterns have been banned in Austria, Germany and Australia.

Mr Foley said while they were not illegal in New Zealand, they did breach the total fire ban in Marlborough.

"People shouldn't be lighting them and they shouldn't be letting them go," he said.

"It's not worth it. Just don't do it."

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- The Marlborough Express

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