Sky lanterns, sometimes referred to as aerial luminaries, have been used in Asian celebrations for many years, but their increasing presence in U.S. weddings, festivals and other celebrations have led them to be banned in several states.
Most sky lanterns are constructed out of an oiled paper, with a frame made of bamboo or metal that holds a candle or fuel cell which the user lights. The hot air created by the flame lifts the lantern into the sky, where it can reach the upper air currents and be flown out of sight.
The problem with these luminaries is that once they start floating, there is no controlling them, said Bruce Bouch, director of public education and media affairs at the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal.
"The potential hazard for an uncontrolled fire is very high because where they land, nobody knows," he said. "All it takes is the right mix of falling in among some dried vegetation or near somebody's trash can that has a lot of paper or cardboard around it, and the next thing you know, you've got an unexplained fire."
The fire marshal's office announced last week that while sky lanterns were already illegal in the state since they were considered equal to aerial fireworks, the Maryland State Fire Prevention Commission has updated the State of Maryland Fire Prevention Code to specifically list sky lanterns as their own item that is prohibited in the state.
Bouch said he was getting emails on a regular basis from people interested in releasing sky lanterns at events, and he had to inform them that sky lanterns are not an option if the event is in Maryland.
"I think people are getting ready for weddings and such and it's popular in the movies, and I think there's even a commercial running now that has them in it," he said.
Jack Cugle, owner of The Inn at Roop's Mill, a wedding venue in Westminster, said he never had anyone ask if they could light a sky lantern at his property - but that doesn't mean it hasn't been done.
"There was one actually used last year that I didn't even know about," he said, until he saw it floating up outside. "It was really cool, but I thought, what if that thing comes down before it's done?"
A simple wind change could lead to a lantern getting caught in a tree, he said, or it could land in an agricultural field and catch fire - but these are things people don't want to think about when they're having a good time.
Cugle said that sky lanterns wouldn't be allowed at his venue even if there wasn't a state ban.
"We don't allow pyrotechnics here of any kind, it's actually in our contract, except for smokeless sparklers outside," he said. "It just doesn't seem like a good idea to light something and let it go."
Bouch said sky lanterns are also banned in California and Hawaii, and that other states have been considering and voting on their prohibition as well.