UK officials ask public to avoid paper lanterns

Updated at: 07/02/2013 11:35 AM

(AP) LONDON - 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.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)