Without question, a night sky filled with lanterns can be an awesome sight.
However, based on several recent reports, we want to inform Scout units. Some units requesting to launch sky lanterns have been denied permission by local fire officials or other local authorities. Upon review, the release of a sky lantern also has been determined to conflict with fundamental Scouting safety principles that relate to fire management, in particular the Firem’n Chit certification and Unit Fireguard Chart, both of which require fires to be attended at all times.
Sky lanterns (also known as paper, floating, or Chinese lanterns) are basically a small, unmanned hot-air balloon. The lantern is a wire or bamboo frame with a paper shell. It has a candle or other fuel source in a holder at the bottom of the balloon. The flame creates the hot air that makes the lantern float, and it adds a glow to the lantern as it floats through the air. These can travel up to a mile or more depending upon the local winds and atmospheric conditions.
Sky lanterns are not allowed within many fire jurisdictions and have already been banned in some areas, especially if they have adopted certain portions of the International Fire Code (IFC) within their jurisdiction. The IFC, like Scouting, states that all “recreational fires” must be attended by a person at all times until they are completely extinguished. Since a sky lantern is allowed to float away as the air inside the lantern rises in temperature, the flame inside the sky lantern cannot be constantly attended by a person until it is extinguished. The sky lantern is free to float to wherever the air currents take it. If a sky lantern is caught in a tree or lands on a roof and the fire spreads to whatever it gets caught in, this could turn into a tragic event.
Unfortunately, whoever launches the sky lantern and their chartered organization can be held financially responsible for damages caused. For this reason, the use of sky lanterns should not be a part of any Scouting activity. If you have any questions about how fires should be handled in your area, we suggest Scouts and leaders contact their local fire authority when planning an event.