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The Real Story Behind the Unusual Floating Lanterns

On Aug. 12, several residents reported seeing unusual objects around Aliso Creek and Dorine roads that caused some to think twice.

Bonnie Ferber of Laguna Niguel was more than surprised to get a call from her daughter, Debbie, in mid-August about

On Aug. 12, around 8:30 p.m., several people described seeing unusual objects in the sky near Dorine and Aliso Creek roads. As it turned out, the "objects" were later identified as sky lanterns. Sky lanterns are usually made of paper and have a small burner that burns wax in their center. When lit, the heat makes them rise, much like a helium balloon.

Ferber's daughter was the one who called the  She told her mother she was coming down the hill on Aliso Creek when she saw all of these "UFOs" falling to the ground.

"Cars were pulling over to watch the UFOs," said mom, Bonnie. "As these balloon-like objects fell to the ground, they had candles or something in them that allowed them to go up in the air. However, they were burning the balloons and were falling to the ground. One or more set a small fire when it hit the ground. It created a little brief traffic chaos, as everyone was pulling over to see the UFOs."

According to Lynette Round, community public affairs supervisor for Orange County Fire Authority, these sky lanterns are not toys and can cause some serious problems, she warned.

"They are beautiful but what people don't realize is that they can land someplace unsafe. Especially now when things are so dry, they can touch down and start a brush fire. They can even land on a house roof and start it on fire."

She added that people need to think twice about lighting the sky lanterns and setting them for flight.

"You can't think that they will land in water or near the ocean. They can in fact, travel long distances," she said. "They can land anywhere and we have had reports in cities from around the county."

The lanterns are popular during the summer months and are often used by those having weddings near the beaches, said Mark Stone, public information officer for OCFA.

"They aren't something that we recommend," he said. "They have an open flame and can potentially be a fire hazard. There is no knowing how far they can travel; my guess is that the ones in Laguna Niguel came from the beach area. That tells you how far they really can travel."

He added that they have a metal frame that could potentially get caught in things such as airplane engines.

"We have had calls from John Wayne Airport where they have been seen, and that metal could get sucked into an engine," he said. 

Stone said OCFA was not called to the area on Aug. 12, however, the fire could have been small enough that "someone just stepped on it to put it out."

Officials at Laguna Niguel Police Services also said there was no mention of a fire in the initial report.

Camelia Sinensis October 17, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Might be pretty, but pretty irresponsible. It's an open flame! You want a house burned, or a hill with dead vegetation? Come on... do a little 'if I do this, then what"...

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