Lanterns May Still Soar

Author’s Note: This is an update to my previous post regarding HB217 that is working its was through the Utah State Legislature.

luca lantern

For those of you who didn’t see my special edition of Boogers on the Wall on Sunday, I wrote an open letter to the Utah State Fire Marshal regarding the proposed amendment to the Utah State Fire Code that would outlaw sky lanterns.

We have sent sky lanterns to Luca each year on his birthday. It is such a peaceful, beautiful way to remember my little angel baby on the anniversary of the day I delivered him.

But a proposed amendment to the Utah State Fire Code would classify the lanterns as unattended fires, therefore rendering them illegal.

I have anxiously been watching and waiting for news from the House of Representatives about the proposed amendment – HB217. I signed up to receive email notifications when anything changes.

Yesterday news came.

I received an email stating that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. James Dunnigan R- Taylorsville, modified the amendment. Instead of completely banning the lanterns, Dunnigan proposed that the amendment include an exception: “Use of a sky lantern is permitted beginning on January 1 through May 31 and beginning on November 1 through December 31 of each year.”

I didn’t know if I should cry or jump up and down with joy! It’s amazing what little things make a grieving mother’s day.

The House of Representatives standing committee on Business and Labor gave the bill a favorable recommendation yesterday. I’ll keep watching and waiting for updates.

I know the bill isn’t finalized and things can still change, but the possibility of being able to continue a sentimental tradition on the day my baby flew to heaven has me overjoyed!

Extinguishing Sky Lanters: My Opinion on the Proposed State Fire Code Amendment

Author’s note: This is a special edition of Boogers on the Wall. Normally I’d wait to post this on Thursday, but with the legislative session in full swing  I don’t want to wait another moment before declaring how I feel about a proposed amendment to the state fire code.


Dear Utah State Fire Marshal Coy Porter,

Before you ban one of my favorite simple, significant traditions I’d like to let you know what I really think of the one-word “Sky Lantern” amendment to the state fire code that will force me to end the only thing I look forward to on the anniversary of my son’s death.

First of all, I’d like to know how a biodegradable piece of floating tissue paper is a big enough issue to warrant so much of your attention.

It seems like figuring out how to better control shrapnel sparks from bullets on mountain gun ranges and people who shoot illegal flame-showering firework rockets into the sky would be more effective in curbing Utah’s annual summer fire frenzy.

The new legislation, proposed by Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, would identify sky lanterns as “unattended fires,” therefore rendering the beautiful floating lanterns illegal.

Have you ever lit one? Have you seen how long the unattended fire burns? Two. Minutes. Max. I have video documentation of several of them rising, floating, extinguishing and falling.

A recent news article quoted you saying, “… we just want to make sure that they don’t have an incident that would cause a lot of damage to property.”

Well, you better ban little toy magnifying glasses and boxes of strike anywhere matches while you’re at it. And how about those throw down snappy things that kids chuck at the sidewalk, even they might pose some sort of fire threat.

Then there’s rubbing alcohol and gasoline. You can’t tell me that they wouldn’t be able to create an “incident that would cause a lot of damage to property.”

In 2011, 355 fires in Utah were classified as “cooking fires, confined to a container.” Does this mean you are going to force Utahns to stop grilling? Should I cancel my plans for my annual Memorial Day barbecue too?

That same year 575 fires were described as “Passenger vehicle fires.” Am I going to be able to continue to ride in a car?

Accidents happen. I understand that there is a small possibility that a stray lantern could malfunction and light another object on fire. I’ll even acknowledge that a neighbor’s tree caught fire after Jimmer Fredette lit hundreds of lanterns last May at his wedding rehearsal in Denver, and that last summer a St. George-wildland fire was started by a sky lantern.

But just because accidents happened and something could be a threat, doesn’t mean that the government should intervene upon my freedoms and tell me that they are going to start controlling yet another small, harmless part of my life.

To propose an amendment that forces me to stop memorializing my son in a simple, elegant way, is yet another unnecessary government control.

If the state of Utah banned everything that Utahns do that might damage property, we’d all end up sitting on couches all day staring at our televisions.

Maybe specific condition-based restrictions are a better idea for the lanterns. Like banning them in the scorching summer months when the dry, brittle grass is more likely to ignite, or not allowing them when it’s windy.

Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like I was once again being told what I couldn’t do with my life.

We have sent lanterns into the sky each year on my son’s birthday. He was born stillborn April 22, 2010.

As my family and I watch mesmerized by the lights raising in the sky it fills me with hope. Hope that my little baby can somehow see the same lights I see. Hope that he may be able to reach his little hand out to touch the top of one of the lanterns. Hope that someday I’ll see him again.

It may sound cheesy, but those lanterns have peacefully connected me to my son the past two years. I like to think they are his floating birthday candles that he blows out before sending back down to me on earth.

The proposed amended fire code will extinguish that sense of hope. Luckily, if passed it would not be implemented until this summer. That means I’m going to light up the sky with them this spring.


Natalie Clemens

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