Mourners release lanterns at Petersburg’s ballfields July 4th, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Orin Pierson)

Petersburg’s Fourth of July fireworks display this year will not include any sky lanterns.

The state fire marshal in May enacted a statewide ban on the paper lanterns that rise up into the sky like a hot air balloon with a flame inside. Petersburg has had memorial gatherings featuring the lights, including one a year ago for two young women killed in a van accident July 4th.

Jeff Morton, a deputy fire marshal with the state’s Department of Public Safety, said the state has heard of complaints and problems with sky lanterns dating back over a decade.

“I’ve been here since 2014,” Morton said. “We’ve had multiple instances, particularly in urban environments where we’ve had sky lanterns that were lit and unfortunately veered back into an urban area, like refueling areas, airports, houses, forested areas and they subsequently started secondary fires as a result of that.”

Morton said the national trend is an outright ban. In Alaska, the state fire marshal May 19 adopted new fire and life safety regulations that include a statewide ban on the lanterns.
As for the fire danger in soggy and rural Southeast Alaska, Morton said it doesn’t work to have a ban in some parts of the state and not in others.

“We’ve had several great discussions about trying to figure out how to do this and it just doesn’t work,” Morton said. “I mean, some areas as you pointed out, hey, may never have a problem, but there’s a secondary consequence to this. And believe it or not it’s the fact that OK you send off a thousand of these that may not have fire impact, but it turns out that about 10 percent of those cause a high litter impact. So there’s just other parts that go with it and that’s when they decided finally at the end after a collaborative effort that you know it’s not just the fire danger it’s the fact that you’re just putting stuff out there that you don’t have any control over.”

The ban makes it illegal to use lanterns in the state. Morton said the state is hoping for voluntary compliance from the public in observing the statewide ban.

The lanterns are not considered fireworks. Some municipalities already had a prohibition on the books. Petersburg’s old city code outlawed the use of most fireworks within the old city limits, but does not specifically list sky lanterns. Dave Berg, who helps put the annual Fourth of July display with other fire department volunteers, said the lanterns won’t be a part of the show anymore. The fireworks show is Tuesday July 4th at the ball fields at 11 p.m.

(Editor’s note: deputy fire marshal Morton initially said the ban applied to sales of sky lanterns but corrected that information. The fire code prohibition does not apply to sales of these devices.)