The Welsh Government and Welsh Fire and Rescue Services have warned people against using sky lanterns to show their support for the NHS during COVID-19.
The warning comes after a recent campaign was launched encouraging people to light sky lanterns to show support for the NHS. All emergency services across Wales are under increased pressure during this unprecedented time. Sky lanterns can and do start fires wherever they land, which can tie up the vital resources needed to respond to Coronavirus. This can leave many crews unavailable for other tasks including providing support for the NHS during the current pandemic by driving ambulances or delivering medicines.
Every year the Fire and Rescue Service have to deal with hundreds of deliberately set grass fires, which are particularly common during the fine and dry weather around Easter. Figures for last year show there were 566 deliberate grass fires in April 2019. There have already been 169 this year in South Wales alone.
Grass fires can devastate the environment and wildlife, and put communities and the firefighters who tackle them at serious risk. Smoke from grass fires also causes significant air pollution and is a serious hazard for people suffering from respiratory and other conditions – including coronavirus.
It is not just sky lanterns which people have been warned against using. Landowners have been asked to avoid clearing land outside of the legal burning season. Such fires can all too easily spread out of control, leading to large areas of land being completely unusable for any agricultural purpose. Fire Services across Wales have also appealed for people to behave responsibly, after being called to hundreds of incidents which have taken place since the school closures; with fires often lasting for days before crews are able to tackle them.
The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said:
The risk of grass fires starting where sky lanterns have landed is well-known. Deliberately setting grass fires by any means is totally irresponsible and unacceptable. At a time of increased pressure, we need to work together and avoid putting further strain on Wales’ emergency services.
Whilst we fully understand and encourage people to show their support and gratitude to members of the NHS for all they do, we strongly discourage people from showing that support by releasing sky lanterns.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Roger Thomas, Chair of the Strategic Arson Reduction Board for Wales said:
The releasing of highly flammable sky lanterns poses a significant fire hazard with the potential to endanger properties, our environment and put a further strain on Fire and Rescue Services and partner agencies at this difficult time.
Whilst I recognise that people wish to show solidarity for NHS workers I would urge them to seek alternative ways of doing so, such as the weekly ‘Clap for our Carers’ or through charitable donations.