Peril in Paper Lanterns

In July 2012, one landed on the roof of the Albatross Motel in Montauk, starting a fire that was quickly extinguished
Paper lanterns, especially during dry weather like we have had recently, can pose a serious fire hazard. Russell Bennett

An Amagansett man found a paper lantern last weekend sitting atop a bed of dry pine needles in his driveway and called The Star to wonder about the dangers of fire. The popular lanterns wafting through the night sky may be attractive, but they can indeed be dangerous, according to East Hampton Town’s chief fire marshal, David Browne — all the more so with the recent dry weather.

There is no town law against the rice paper-and-bamboo lanterns, which float skyward when a small candle is lit, but the New York State Fire Code does address the question, Mr. Browne said. The state deems use of the lanterns a “recreational fire,” and the law states that such fires must be attended to at all times. In other words, said Mr. Browne, once you let go of a lantern it becomes a hazard and a violation. “They have no control where it’s going to go,” he said.

There are plenty of instances, even locally, where lanterns have come down before their candles burn out. In July 2012, one landed on the roof of the Albatross Motel in Montauk, starting a fire that was quickly extinguished. Another got caught up in power lines in Montauk that same year, after which Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson proposed a law banning paper lanterns. There are such laws in municipalities elsewhere, but by all accounts the resolution went nowhere here. A town attorney explained that East Hampton could not adopt a law that differs from the state law, absent the state’s permission.

Town fire marshals can cite violators, said Mr. Browne, but “the problem is catching them doing it.” He could not recall any instance of anyone being caught red-handed setting lanterns free.

Violations could result in a $1,000 fine.