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Poll: After Sloley thatched cottage scare - should sky lanterns be banned?

PUBLISHED: 11:38 07 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:38 07 July 2013

William Grant with the remains of the scorched Chinese lantern which landed inches from his thatched cottage. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

William Grant with the remains of the scorched Chinese lantern which landed inches from his thatched cottage. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

A north Norfolk homeowner has joined calls for sky lanterns to be banned after finding one inches away from his thatched cottage.

William Grant believes the lantern could have set the reed alight and destroyed his home.

And Mr Grant, of Sloley, near North Walsham, thinks the lantern was probably lit and sent drifting at about the same time as those which started a massive £6m blaze at a recycling plant in the West Midlands on July 1.

He and his wife Hilary returned this week from a trip to Italy to attend their daughter’s wedding and found a mystery object on the ground beside a wall of their home.

“I opened it up and it was a Chinese lantern, with clear scorch marks on it,” said Mr Grant, 68.

“The implications of this are colossal. We have a large thatched roof and it clearly came down within inches of it. We could have come back to no house or, if we had been inside asleep, we could have been killed.”

Sky, or Chinese, lanterns, are mini hot-air balloons, made of paper, with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.

They have become increasingly popular at events including festivals, weddings and memorial gatherings, when large numbers are often released in the open air.

Mr Grant said that, although some people found them attractive, they were dangerous. “I can’t see the point of them and would like to see them banned,” he added.

The inferno at J&A Young’s recycling plant in Smethwick produced a plume of smoke which could be seen 30 miles away after lantern sparks ignited 100,000 tons of plastic.

Some 200 firefighters dealt with the blaze, 10 of whom were injured and four needed hospital treatment.

Brian Finnerty, East Anglia NFU spokesman, said lanterns were a major concern for farmers who believed there was a “pretty strong case” for a complete ban.

Apart from the fire hazard, wires and bamboo used to support the flame holder fell to earth in fields where they had been eaten by cattle or became caught up in bales of silage later fed to livestock.

“There have been a number of instances where cows have suffered agonising deaths caused by ingesting these wires or sharp bamboo,” said Mr Finnerty.

“We don’t want to be killjoys but when these things go up there is no control over where they come down which makes them very dangerous.”

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has also called for a ban on skylanterns to cut the risk of fires and livestock deaths.

CLA president Harry Cotterell said: “The concept of launching a flaming bonfire into the night sky with absolutely no idea of where it will land has always seemed reckless and bizarre. It is clear that skylanterns represent a wholly unnecessary risk to property, woodland, crops, moorland and livestock.

“Many millions of pounds of damage has been caused by fires started by skylanterns.”

Police and coastguards have also regularly dealt with reports of floating lanterns being mistaken for UFOs and distress flares.

Greg Preston, group manger with Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We would urge anyone using a Chinese lantern to exercise caution in the same way they would if they were setting off fireworks.

“We have no evidence so far of a lantern causing a serious fire in Norfolk but there is an obvious potential danger, especially in a county like ours with many thatched properties, standing crops, haystacks etc.

“The aim may be for the lantern to go skywards but there is always the risk of the wind taking it sideways.”

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