Fire Prevention 52: Sky Lanterns

By Kathy Komatz, National Structural Fire Training Specialist
Chinese sky lantern floating in the sky at night

Sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns, are airborne paper lanterns that are most commonly used in celebrations and festivals in Asian cultures. They consist of a paper shell stretched over a frame, with a candle inside. When lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, causing the lantern to rise into the air like a hot air balloon.

In ancient China, sky lanterns were once used strategically in wars by the Chinese, but are now most popular for celebrations. Today, these enchanting lights are used around the world for weddings, parties, and national celebrations such as the Fourth of July and Chinese New Year.

Although beautiful and fun, sky lanterns have been banned in many cities and countries due to potential aircraft interference and fire hazards. Fires start easily when lanterns contact dried grass or pine needles on the ground and on rooftops. Many house fires have been caused by the release of these lanterns indoors.

We strongly discourage using sky lanterns because of the fire hazard, BUT … if you can't live without them, as with everything, they need to be used properly.

  • Make sure the use of sky lanterns is allowed in your area.
  • Not all sky lanterns are the same. Always follow the instructions provided.
  • Never use sky lanterns indoors.
  • Check the weather conditions before launching sky lanterns. Under best conditions sky lanterns should be used on still, clear evenings. If it is rainy or windy, save the sky lanterns for another day.
  • Do not use sky lanterns in areas with burnable vegetation. Misuse in this manner has resulted in many wildland fires.
  • Next, make sure the area where you want to launch them is clear of obstructions. It is not a good idea to launch sky lanterns in areas that are heavily treed or where there are tall buildings. Instead, choose a clear area free from fire hazards and structures.
  • Check the sky lantern itself for any damage, which may make it malfunction.
  • Lanterns may drip hot wax from the fuel cell. Follow the directions on where to hold the lantern during lighting and launching to avoid getting burned.
  • Consider wearing non-flammable clothing.

Fire Info for You

If you are considering using sky lanterns, check with your local fire department, park structural fire coordinator, superintendent, or other authorities first. They may be prohibited.

Park Leadership
With the use of sky lanterns becoming increasingly popular, consider creating policy regulating their use in your park.

NPS Fire Facts

We'd like to highlight several recent articles about sky lanterns:

Last updated: December 1, 2016