Auckland Council considers total ban on customary paper balloons because of risk

Lighting up sky lanterns - an Asian custom that has caught on for weddings and birthdays - could become illegal in Auckland because of fears they are a fire hazard.

The mini paper balloons, also known as Chinese lanterns, are a type of outdoor fire which cannot be under control when they float away, says an Auckland Council document.

Reasonable supervision at all times is a necessary fire-control measure to prevent the start or spread of fire, says the council staff paper, which is to be presented to today's hearing for a proposed Outdoor Fire Safety Bylaw.

Sky lanterns breached the requirements of the outdoor fire safety bylaws of several former councils, which Auckland Council has inherited and must replace with a single bylaw in time for the summer.

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The council said the region's rural fire authorities suggested lanterns should be banned and the Fire Service and National Fire Authority told the Herald they would support a ban because the lanterns are a fire hazard.

A grass fire was caused by a lantern in Wairarapa in March last year.

However, the proposal has been criticised by approved fireworks handler and retailer Barry Wah Lee, of Wah Lee's General Store in Auckland.

"The sky lanterns may go high but will only return to the earth if the paraffin wax fuel cell has been exhausted, so there is not a burning object that will return to earth," he said.

"The paper is also non-flammable and biodegradable."

Mr Wah Lee said lanterns should be launched only on a still night far from airports, buildings, overhead cables, pylons and major roads and also away from dry crops, woodlands and grazing animals.

David Roberts, of Wishlantern on the North Shore, said his company sold thousands of the lanterns each year for weddings and other celebrations as a "safe, quiet alternative to fireworks".

"You can write wishes for the bride and groom on them and, with parental supervision, the kids can get into it.

"Wish lanterns are the core of our business and it would be a real shock if they were banned.

"Ours is a quality product with a dry fuel cell pre-attached and risks are low if used as per instructions."

Mr Roberts said he let customers know about any summer ban on outdoor fires in the area and he supported regulation to weed out inferior products.

There are bans or restrictions on lanterns in Spain, Germany, Austria, Australia, Malta and Vietnam, and when they were banned in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, the local fire chief described them as "floating bags of fire".

Last year, one of them ignited a huge blaze at a plastics recycling plant in the West Midlands of England, causing $12 million damage. Two hundred firefighters battled the inferno.