A northern San Diego County emergency services agency put out a warning Tuesday about combustion hazards posed by sky lanterns -- a type of illegal, free-floating paper kite that uses the heat from an onboard open flame for its buoyancy.
In recent years, the hot air balloon-like airborne decorations have become increasingly popular at local weddings and other celebratory events, launched into the nighttime air to create a glowing overhead display, according to the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District.
"Unfortunately, sky lanterns pose a serious fire risk," said Julie Taber, spokeswoman for the agency. "The paper used to make the lantern can easily ignite, causing the lantern to fall from the sky and burn whatever it lands on."
Like fireworks, use of the devices is prohibited by law in San Diego County, Taber noted.
Last week, two burnt sky lanterns were found in a residential backyard in Rancho Santa Fe. One came down in an open area covered with weeds and natural vegetation.
"We are very fortunate that the weather worked in our favor that day,'' district Battalion Chief Dave Livingstone said. "If it had been just a little hotter and a little drier, the lanterns could have caused a serious problem."
Firefighting officials urge anyone seeing sky lanterns in use to call 911 to report the violation.
"They may be pretty to look at, but they are just not worth the risk," Livingstone said.