Sky Lanterns Fly Over Gilbert and Phoenix on Christmas Eve -- Even if Illegal

Categories: Fire

Image: mic cal via Flickr
Are you a sky-lantern pilot?

The flying bags of flame are illegal in cities like Gilbert and Phoenix -- not that city ordinances stopped the lanterns that flew over those cities on Christmas Eve.

We were scouting for Christmas lights near Guadalupe and Alma School roads about 7 p.m. Tuesday when we noticed a chain of glowing "UFOs" rising hundreds of feet. After the initial "What the hell is that?" sensation, we realized the orbs were Chinese sky lanterns popularized recently in the 2010 Disney flick Tangled.

The objects looked to contain small flames, possibly from tea candles, and the highest ones already were burning out as new ones were launched from a nearby housing development.

Later, we saw that a Facebook friend had mentioned seeing sky lanterns rising from the Coronado neighborhood in Phoenix the same night. We're curious if you saw anything like that, and where.

A fire official in Gilbert didn't respond to calls regarding the lanterns and couldn't confirm our sighting. But we were told that flying such lanterns would definitely violate a Gilbert ordinance. The lanterns also are prohibited by Phoenix fire code, a city of Phoenix website states.

Like tiny hot-air balloons, the lanterns use a candle or other flame source to create lift. They sure look neat. But it seems like a bad idea to float open flames anywhere above the Sonoran Desert, even in winter.

The lanterns barely qualify as a problem compared to the much greater hazard of falling bullets fired into the air by partying yahoos. Still, in July a sky lantern was blamed for causing a $10 million fire at a U.K. recycling plant.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals this year urged states to ban them completely, according to an Associated Press article from November.

As mentioned, though, the fact that they're already illegal in some towns isn't stopping some people from launching them. Yet another law may not solve the problem -- if it actually is a problem.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Kyle Hague
Kyle Hague

even if they aren't a fire hazard-- its littering and you're an asshole if you release them. They just end up as trash somewhere.

Lisa Serrano
Lisa Serrano

We launched some this year for my son's 1 year anniversary for his lupus diagnosis and surviving his 1st year. If there isn't a lot of wind they are fine. They float up and burn out on their own.

Laura Ory
Laura Ory

I saw one in Arcadia. Definitely seems like a fire hazard here with all the dry trees they could hit.

danzigsdaddy topcommenter

serious question about these: are they illegal all the time, or was it just during the no-burn they had going?

Linda Gibson
Linda Gibson

It is soooooo cool, breaking the law is fun too for occasions as this.

Nico Moon
Nico Moon

Then set a law on it to not allow it?....

David Hill
David Hill

maybe that's what I saw and thought it was U.F.O.s

Carol Anne Byrnes
Carol Anne Byrnes

I have always cringed when I see these things being launched in television commercials and the like, although that may come because I grew up in what is now called the urban-wildland interface, and the whole idea of setting something on fire and launching it into the air with no control over where it goes strikes me as downright stupid. My awareness has been increased since my hometown has had a major fire sweep through and been evacuated due to another, and my son is now a wildland firefighter. Maybe in someplace with a really wet climate, these things wouldn't be so bad, but I have to agree with the article that the Sonoran Desert is not the right sort of place.

TommyCollins topcommenter

I wonder if the intent of these lanterns is NOT to be launched, but rather just for ornamental lighting around a patio or backyard, somewhat like kerosene lanterns would be used?

If they continue to gain altitude like a hot air balloon, until the flame dies out, then they drop to the ground and become litter, for someone else to deal with, much as the helium party balloons do...


lol, silly laws are for honest folk.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Charge these fools with ARSON !

WhoKnows topcommenter

These things should NEVER be used here in the desert.  Too much that can burn, even within a neighborhood.  And NO CONTROL once they are set free - they can go anywhere - the wind 100' up can be very different than the wind at grown level.

Some clowns on the next block "flew" a few of these on July 4th.  I watched them, just to make sure they came no where close to my property.  Things were VERY dry in July!

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