Sheriff: Sky lantern caused fire that damaged dock

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
A sky lantern like the ones pictured above, is blamed for starting a fire that damaged a West Bluff Drive dock.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike says a sky lantern caused a fire that destroyed part of a wooden dock on Keuka Lake early July 4.

Officers are investigating a fire that was reported by a passing boater at about 1:30 a.m. July 4. The boater notified the renters, who called 911. Deputies and the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department responded to 7925 West Bluff Drive, where the renters had put a stop to the blaze by dumping lake water onto it. However, the fire damaged a several foot wooden section of the dock along with the railing where it connects to the stairs at the shoreline.

Investigation by deputies and the fire chief concluded that based on debris at the scene that a sky lantern someone had launched to celebrate July 4 had landed on the dock, causing the fire. Spike says the property owner is William Goulburn, of Rochester, and the damage is over $1,000.

“When a sky lantern lands with a flame still alight it can ignite its paper and the surrounding area can catch a fire,” says Spike. Sky Lanterns are also often referred to as “Chinese Lanterns.”

They are constructed from oiled rice paper on a bamboo frame, and contain a small candle or fuel cell composed of a waxy flammable material encased in a metal ring. When lit, the flame heats the air inside the lantern, thus lowering its density causing the lantern to rise into the air. They are known to travel significant distance from the point of release via the air currents, which creates a serious fire and safety hazard because of the potential to start an unintended fire.

Spike says the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control considers the use of these devices as a violation.

The state office holds the opinion that sky lanterns meet the definition of recreational fires, as defined in Section 302.1 of the state fire code, and consequently, these devices require constant attendance as required in Section 307.5 of the code. Therefore, OFPC is of the opinion that sky lanterns, unless anchored or tethered, cannot be constantly attended, and thus present a violation of the fire code of New York State.