Sky lantern festival sparks controversy

An Ottawa woman is raising safety concerns about an upcoming sky lantern festival taking place near Ottawa.

Festival set to take place in Beckwith Township in September

During The Lights Fest festivalgoers ignite their sky lanterns and let them take flight. (The Lights Fest/Facebook)

An Ottawa woman is raising safety concerns about an upcoming sky lantern festival taking place near Ottawa.

The Lights Fest, a travelling festival with events across the United States and Canada, is scheduled to take place on Sept. 23 in Beckwith Township, southwest of Ottawa.

At the event, festivalgoers ignite "their personalized sky lanterns with Tiki torches and let them take flight," according to The Lights Fest website.

But Anouk Hoedeman, founder of bird safety advocacy group Safe Wings Ottawa, said the planned release of sky lanterns is too risky.

"It's essentially an event where they're sending flaming litter up into the sky with these big lanterns that are lit up and it looks very nice going up into the sky but these things land in various places," said Hoedeman.

Sky lanterns banned in some places

Anouk Hoedeman of Safe Wings Ottawa said setting off sky lanterns is a risk not worth taking. (CBC)
Hoedeman said she contacted the festival through Facebook about her concerns.

"They can start fires, the pieces can remain if they don't get picked and animals can eat them. Or actually, birds can get caught in these things while they are still in the air and get burned. There's a lot of stories from around the world about problems," said Hoedeman.

Sky lanterns have been banned in several municipalities across Canada — including Ottawa.

Sean A.Tracey, deputy fire chief with Ottawa Fire Services, said sky lanterns of any type are prohibited within the City of Ottawa.

Lights Fest lanterns are different

The Lights Fest organizers wanted to hold the festival in Ottawa but due to the ban, they looked for a location outside of city limits and settled on Beckwith Township.

Mark Gowland, who is the contact for the Canadian version of the festival, said the sky lanterns used by the festival are specially designed to be safe.

"They have been engineered and specially tested to fly not as high and not as far. So, by the time they land we also send a clean up team to go clean up every one," said Gowland.

And, Gowland adds the lanterns are set off at night and shouldn't go high enough to interfere with birds.

Gowland said the festival works closely with the township and the fire department to ensure there is no risk of fire and they stay in the area for three days to clean everything up.

According to Gowland, the festival has launched about 100,000 lanterns over the past year and he does not know of any problems.

The reeve of Beckwith Township, Richard Kidd, says Beckwith Park is a popular gathering place and this festival is the kind of family-friendly event his community welcomes.