August 28, 2014

Myrtle Beach fire caused by “Sky Lantern”

The South Carolina Forestry Commission says a fire that burned more than 800 acres of Horry County land was caused by a special type of floating candle lantern. The July 3 fire is completely contained, but continues to burn along the coast in Horry County.

Officials had said last week they could not determine what caused the fire, only that it was “manmade.” However, someone called in a tip to the state’s arson hotline Monday, saying they saw a lantern go over the clubhouse at a nearby neighborhood, near the spot where the fire started. Officials soon confirmed from another witness that the lantern had gone down in the woods.

Sky Lanterns are paper hot air balloons with a fuel pack in them that are about three feet tall. They can be released into the atmosphere when there is no wind, where they are supposed to rise straight upwards.

The Forestry Commission’s law enforcement chief David West said someone may have been celebrating the Fourth of July by releasing several of these lanterns. “As far as I know, we’ve never had a problem with them,” West said, “But, to be honest with you, I’ve never heard about these things till now.

In fact, investigators had previously dismissed fireworks as a cause because they did not find any debris on the scene, which is usually the case. West said the paper bag and aluminum on the lantern were destroyed in the blaze, “It was in a part of the fire where it smoldered for a good while,” he said, “I feel sure it burned that aluminum down to nothing.”

He said officials have not yet been able to determine who released the lanterns. Whoever did it may face misdemeanor charges for allowing a fire to spread to another property. West said they could also be open to civil charges.

The fire has consumed 805 acres of land in Myrtle Beach–but that includes the 515 acres firefighters set ablaze in order to contain the fire. It continues to smolder, and briefly flared up earlier this week, although officials say it does not present a risk to any nearby structures.