Chinese Lantern event in Punchestown may not have required safety permission

Published by Leigh McGowran on

May 16, 2018

A Chinese lantern event set to take place at Punchestown, Co Kildare this August may not have the required safety permission for the event to go ahead.

The Lights Fest is planned for 18 August 2018 and will involve live music, dancing and thousands of festivalgoers releasing sky lanterns – small hot air balloons made of paper.

According to the festival’s website, attendees will ignite their personalized sky lanterns with Tiki torches in the evening and let “them take flight”.

The event organisers state that have customized the lanterns to ensure that they will land within the Punchestown property for easy retrieval.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), however, has told The Green News that such a release would be “illegal unless appropriate permission were [sic] granted”.

This includes IAA permission, according to Manus Weed, Senior Account Executive at the IAA, who confirmed that the Authority has not been contacted by the event organisers.

Mr Weed said that a similar event was planned in Ireland by Lights Fest last year but was later cancelled.

The IAA safety guideline on sky lanterns states that no individual or group may release more than 20 sky lanterns in a single launch.

“For the purposes of these Guidelines ‘simultaneously released at a single site’ shall mean the release of not more than 20 Sky Lanterns during a period not exceeding 15 minutes from within an area not exceeding one-kilometre square,” the safety guide states.

The Green News contacted The Lights Fest organisers and Punchestown Racecourse in relation to this issue but did not receive a reply from either at the time of publication.

Sky Lantern Fire Risks

Sky lanterns have been the cause of fires around the world. A sky lantern caused a home to burn down in England in 2011. A similar incident took place in Ireland in 2015.

A sky lantern caused a fire at a plastic recycling plant in Birmingham that involved more than 200 firefighters and cost £6 million in damages. Eleven firefighters were injured.

A sky lantern was also suspected of causing a fire that burned 800 acres of land in South Carolina in 2011.

Laws have been introduced around the world regarding the sale and release of sky lanterns. They are banned in over two dozen states in the US, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals has previously urged states to ban the sale and use of sky lanterns.

There is a permanent ban on the supply of sky lanterns in Australia. They are illegal in Brazil and caused a fire at the velodrome built for the Rio Olympics.

They have been banned in parts of China, after causing 61 flight delays in a year on the Chinese island of Sanya.

Chinese Sky Lanterns Photo: Pixabay

Environmental Impact

In 2012, several environmental and conservation groups issued a joint call to ban balloon and sky lantern releases.

The groups – the Irish Wildlife Trust, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, the Irish Seal Sanctuary and Birdwatch Ireland  –  claim sky lanterns present fire and environmental risks and can be mistaken as distress flares by the coastguard.

Lights Fest’s website says their lanterns are 100 per cent biodegradable, contain no metal wiring and are made from rice paper, string and bamboo. They also state that they treat the rice paper to ensure it is fire resistant.

According to Karin Dubsky of CoastWatch, the bamboo and string can pose risks to wildlife in the areas where the sky lanterns land.

“The thing about Chinese lanterns in general, the strings can cause entanglement, and so can the bamboo strings. They are dangerous to animals in the water, fields as well,” she added.

Ms Dubsky said that there are safer ways to have celebrations involving candles, giving an example of a recent event where people released floating candles in Bannow Bay, Wexford.

“Canoeists went out to see who could collect the most. It was a fun competition,” she said.

Speaking on KFM last week, Oonagh Duggan of Birdwatch Ireland said that the conservation NGO has been contacted by concerned Kildare locals about the event.

“You have to ask, is this what we want these days? Lanterns which will be lit and on fire, going up into the air with the potential to land wherever,” she told Kildare Today host Shane Beatty last Thursday.

Kildare County Council told The Green News that they have not been contacted by the event organisers, adding that events with less than 5,000 people present do not require a license from the council.

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Leigh McGowran

Leigh is a final year Journalism student at DCU with interests in the environment, radio presenting and film reviews.