Sky lantern festival set to go ahead in Kildare despite drought conditions

July 27th, 2018

An event involving the release of lit sky lanterns is set to go ahead in Co Kildare next month despite continued drought conditions across the county and concerns over environmental impacts.

The Lights Fest is set to take place on 11 August at Mondello Park in the heart of the countryside and will involve live music, dancing as well as the release of sky lanterns – small hot air balloons made of paper.

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

The website states that the festival has been held in several countries with a “perfect safety record” to date. They state that the lanterns are modified to land within the event property for easy retrieval.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), however, said that the festival organisers have not applied to the IAA for such a release that would be “illegal unless appropriate permission were granted”.

“We are aware of the advertising and promotional material surrounding this proposed event currently circulating online,” an IAA spokesperson told The Green News.

The IAA does “not endorse or encourage” the use of Sky Lanterns, the spokesperson said, with safety guideline on sky lanterns indicating 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 Authority’s safety guide states.

Celina Barrett, Chief Fire Officer for the Kildare Fire Service, told us that they are “aware” of the event and have tried to “use our influence to stop it going ahead”. She added, however, that, as the number of attendees will be fewer than 5,000, the organisers do not require an event license.

“Neither the Fire Service nor Kildare County Council has any powers to prevent or cancel the event as it does not require a licence under our current legislation,” she said, with Kildare County Council confirming this in a statement.

Kildare resident and environmental campaigner, Deirdre Lane, said that sky lanterns are both a fire and an environmental hazard. “Lanterns may land whilst still aflame and thus set anything on fire,” she warned, adding that Mondello is near a bog currently on fire as a result of drought conditions.

The co-founder of the Newbridge Cottage Market said that the proposed event was brought to her attention in February, after which she raised concern with the council and fire service.

Ms Lane sits on the Kildare Environmental College under the council’s Public Participation Network (PPN) and raised the issue at a committee meeting in March.

“I echoed the risks to life, the litter and the known fire hazard the releasing of fire lanterns causes, giving examples of actual damage arising from these fireballs,” she said, adding that she has since received support from Councillors Íde Cussen and Brendan Young.

“Fire hazard aside, these lanterns are a huge threat to the environment, with birds getting entangled in wires stuck in trees, or wildlife, cattle or pets getting injured when they step into the sharp frames or accidentally ingesting parts of them,” she added.

Neither the event organiser nor Mondello Park replied to several requests from The Green News for comment.

A barn owl died having become entangled in a lantern frame Photo: RSPCA
A barn owl died having become entangled in a lantern frame Photo: RSPCA

Fire and environmental impacts

Sky Lanterns are banned in several countries including Colombia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, parts of Canada and number of states in the US.

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

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 also caused a fire at a plastic recycling plant in Birmingham in 2013 that involved more than 200 firefighters and cost £6 million in damages. Eleven firefighters were injured. In 2010, a boy’s face was badly burned in Wrexham as hot wax from a lantern landed on his face.

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 Balloons Blow, a Florida-based NGO, sky lanterns can kill animals that eat them or become entangled in the lanterns.

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.

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