Sky Lanterns Fly Over Gilbert and Phoenix on Christmas Eve -- Even if Illegal

Are you a sky-lantern pilot?

The flying bags of flame are illegal in cities like Gilbert and Phoenix -- not that city ordinances stopped the lanterns that flew over those cities on Christmas Eve.

We were scouting for Christmas lights near Guadalupe and Alma School roads about 7 p.m. Tuesday when we noticed a chain of glowing "UFOs" rising hundreds of feet. After the initial "What the hell is that?" sensation, we realized the orbs were Chinese sky lanterns popularized recently in the 2010 Disney flick Tangled.

The objects looked to contain small flames, possibly from tea candles, and the highest ones already were burning out as new ones were launched from a nearby housing development.

Later, we saw that a Facebook friend had mentioned seeing sky lanterns rising from the Coronado neighborhood in Phoenix the same night. We're curious if you saw anything like that, and where.

A fire official in Gilbert didn't respond to calls regarding the lanterns and couldn't confirm our sighting. But we were told that flying such lanterns would definitely violate a Gilbert ordinance. The lanterns also are prohibited by Phoenix fire code, a city of Phoenix website states.

Like tiny hot-air balloons, the lanterns use a candle or other flame source to create lift. They sure look neat. But it seems like a bad idea to float open flames anywhere above the Sonoran Desert, even in winter.

The lanterns barely qualify as a problem compared to the much greater hazard of falling bullets fired into the air by partying yahoos. Still, in July a sky lantern was blamed for causing a $10 million fire at a U.K. recycling plant.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals this year urged states to ban them completely, according to an Associated Press article from November.

As mentioned, though, the fact that they're already illegal in some towns isn't stopping some people from launching them. Yet another law may not solve the problem -- if it actually is a problem.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern