Ordinance bans launching of sky lanterns in unincorporated areas

newsroom@thetribunenews.comMay 7, 2013 

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed an ordinance prohibiting the ignition and launching of sky lanterns in the county areas outside the incorporated cities and fire districts. The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.

A sky lantern — an airborne paper lantern sometimes called a “Chinese lantern” — is similar to a miniature hot air balloon. It is powered by a fuel cell or candle that heats the air, fills the balloon and makes the lantern fly up into the sky.

“What seems harmless is not, and these lanterns pose a serious threat to the citizens, property, and wildland areas of San Luis Obispo County,” said Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin.

Recognizing that the sky lanterns may have a necessary religious or cultural use, the ordinance allows an exception with approval from Cal Fire. Even then the device must be monitored and tethered.

If someone violates the ordinance the violator may be issued a misdemeanor ticket and be liable for fire suppression costs. The sky lanterns have recently become very popular for weddings, events and memorials. These devices are easily purchased from local stores or on the internet.

A sky lantern was determined to be the cause of a wildfire that occurred in Shell Beach on the mountain above Pirate's Cove last summer. This fire burned several acres and nearly destroyed vital emergency communication facilities and cellular phone towers.

The Pirates Cove fire was extinguished within a few hours but cost tens of thousands of dollars to suppress.

“Sky lanterns can travel significant distances causing costly fires, damaging property and potentially loss of life; this is a risk not worth taking,” Lewin said.

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