Sunderland firefighters call for review into Chinese lanterns after Smethwick blaze

Embargoed to 0001 Sunday June 19'''File photo dated 26/03/2011 of chinese sky lanterns as guests at weddings, festivals and parties are being urged not to release Chinese sky lanterns this summer because of the damage they can do in the countryside. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date:Sunday June 19, 2011. The paper lanterns, which are carried into the sky by hot air from fuel blocks lit inside them, can drift for miles and cause death to cattle, litter and serious fires in the countryside where they fall to earth. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Lanterns. Photo credit should read: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Embargoed to 0001 Sunday June 19'''File photo dated 26/03/2011 of chinese sky lanterns as guests at weddings, festivals and parties are being urged not to release Chinese sky lanterns this summer because of the damage they can do in the countryside. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date:Sunday June 19, 2011. The paper lanterns, which are carried into the sky by hot air from fuel blocks lit inside them, can drift for miles and cause death to cattle, litter and serious fires in the countryside where they fall to earth. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Lanterns. Photo credit should read: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
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SUNDERLAND fire service bosses are calling for a “full review” into the use of Chinese lanterns in the city.

The call comes after 11 firefighters were injured and £6million of damage caused when more than 10,000 tonnes of waste plastic and paper went up in flames at a recycling plant in the West Midlands.

The blaze was started at 11pm on Sunday by a Chinese Lantern which floated onto the site, landing on some rubbish.

More than 200 firefighters have tackled the blaze at the industrial estate, leading to calls for a Government ban.

The lights, which are made of wire and paper, float for miles, carrying a lit candle and can cost as little as 20p each.

Kevin Hepple, Sunderland area manager for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, today said: “We support the call for a review of the situation regarding the use of Chinese lanterns.

“Over recent years there have been increasing numbers of incidents nationally which have been started as a result of these paper lanterns.

“They are a real fire risk and we would discourage anyone from buying or using them.

“If anyone is organising an event or celebration where they plan to use Chinese lanterns I would urge them to consider the safety advice available and to contact their local fire and rescue service for advice.”

The lanterns are already banned in Austria, Spain, Germany and New Zealand.

The Chief Fire Officers Association has now called for an “urgent review” and has asked fire brigades up and down the country to work with councils, police and trading standards to discourage lanterns being released.

In the past, volunteers at Sunderland RNLI have also issued warnings about the lanterns, claiming they could be mistaken for distress signals.

Lifeboats crews have launched rescue operations off the coast of Hendon following reports of flares which turned out to be Chinese lanterns.

Today the organisation told the Echo they were not supporting a ban, but urged people setting of lanterns to do it responsibly.

A spokeswoman said: “The RNLI is not calling for an outright ban on Chinese lanterns.

“We support the advice given by the Coastguard - to use lanterns responsibly and to inform your local Coastguard Maritime and Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in advance if you plan to use lanterns near the coast.

“The RNLI believes that if lanterns are used with due care and Coastguard advice is followed, they need not pose a risk to safety at sea and result in unnecessary launches for our lifeboats.

“We recognise that other organisations are concerned with the use of Chinese lanterns for environmental reasons.”

SOME Wearsiders support calls to ban Chinese lanterns.

We asked shoppers in The Bridges for their views.

Retired sisters Mavis Taylor, 62 and Margaret Norton, 64, both of Southwick, labelled the lanterns a “hazard,” particularly for children.

Ms Taylor said: “It’s taking fire services from other places that need them more.

“People say it’s a killjoy but it’s not, it’s dangerous.”

Carol Cook, a 58-year-old housewife from Washington, said: “I think it’s disgraceful.

“They should be banned they are extremely dangerous for people and wildlife, fires like that could even cause health problems.”

However, Diane Barrass, from Ryhope, had a different view about banning lanterns

The 55-year-old nurse described this week’s fire in the West Midlands as a “one off.” She added: “The lanterns are important for culture and great for kids, people should just risk assess before they use them. They should be given the benefit of the doubt.”