Sky lanterns grounded under new Winnipeg fire-prevention rules

The candle-powered decorative balloons known as sky lanterns will soon be forbidden in the skies above Winnipeg.

An update to the city's fire-prevention bylaw will prohibit sky lanterns, which the city defines as small hot air balloons "made of paper or other material with an opening at the bottom where a small fire, candle or fuel cell is affixed such that the lantern will rise into the air while ignited."

The lanterns, popularized in Asia, pose "a serious fire hazard to property and a health risk to livestock, pets and wildlife," says a report authored by Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service fire-prevention director Janet Bier.

"When the fuel source is ignited, the hot air produced by the fuel source can lift the lantern to extreme heights and allow it to drift long distances before the fuel supply is depleted," Bier wrote. 

"This can result in the sky lanterns descending before the flames are extinguished or the fuel cell has cooled, which in turn can result in structure fires or grass and tree fires. Additionally, sky lantern debris is attributed to causing deaths in owl, deer and other wildlife, as well as causing damage to livestock, after the animals consumed parts of the lanterns. Sky lanterns were originally designed to be released over large bodies of water where there was no risk of fire." 

Sky lanterns are already illegal in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and several Canadian municipalities.

"In Winnipeg we don't have any incidents that we know of that were started as a result of a sky lantern," Bier told reporters at city hall. "However, around the world there has been some significant fires resulting from sky lanterns."

The Winnipeg prohibition is part of a fire-prevention bylaw update that also tightens up inspections for propane tanks on food trucks, new offences for people who tamper with fire extinguishers, new permit requirements for pyrotechnics at sporting events and new fees for inspections of illegal rooming houses.

The updated bylaw comes before council's protection, parks and community services committee Monday morning and faces council approval on April 26.