Peachland grass fire likely sparked by sky lantern | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Peachland grass fire likely sparked by sky lantern

The Peachland Fire Department battled a grass fire off of Ponderosa Drive, March 16, 2021.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Kevin Tameling
March 17, 2021 - 2:10 PM

A Peachland grass fire that damaged a nearby home was likely caused by a sky lantern.

Peachland resident Jay Balehowsky caught a strange moving object on video before it landed near his neighbour’s house. Some residents reported that it looked like a meteorite. 

“You can see it moving a little bit, and we watched it for (about three minutes) and you can actually see it looks like it’s spinning around sort of coming towards us a bit,” Balehowsky said.

“You can actually see that one chunk of it fell off, and you can see roughly where it landed,” he said, adding it landed about 200 metres away from his house.

About 10 minutes later he saw the firetrucks to the area.

Peachland fire chief Dennis Craig and his team responded to the grass fire off of Ponderosa Road yesterday, March 16, at around 9 p.m.

The grass fire caused minor damage to one home, as the fire burned right up to the house. The area of origin was within 10 to 15 feet of the home.

“We did look around to see if we could find anything. We obviously put a lot of water on the fire so if anything was there, it’s no longer there. It’s definitely a steeper hillside that we were working on,” he said.

Based on the video, Craig said it wasn’t fireworks or a marine flare, but looks like a sky lantern.

“They have been known to cause fires, they are a flaming object in a very paper-thin balloon-type object that floats through the sky… there is a risk of starting a fire with one of those,” he said.

While he said he’s not a scientist, rocks don’t generally support combustion, he said there would be a mark or loud bang if it were a meteor in that area.

“It will go down as undetermined in this case as I would need physical evidence to make a determination on (the) cause," Craig said.

Robert Lunsford, with the American Meteor Society, said the object in the video was moving too slowly to be a meteor or space debris.

“Sky lanterns are basically miniature hot air balloons. They are kept aloft by small candles," Lunsford said via email. "They lose altitude when the candle is extinguished or the paper mache balloon catches on fire. This one caught on fire and a flaming remnant of the balloon ignited the grass."

These lanterns are dangerous, especially in areas prone to brush fires. I recall a sky lantern was blamed for a warehouse fire in England a few years ago,” he said.

Brett Gladman, a meteor expert at UBC, said meteor fireballs are seen at an altitude of 50 to 100 kilometres and are typically 50 to 200 km from the viewer although most witnesses are convinced it is extremely close.

The claim that "a piece fell just nearby" is extremely common and never correct, he said.

Freshly fallen meteorites are always cold and would still be sitting in the area where they could be recovered, he said.

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