Lantern release at Cromwell winter festival under discussion

by Kim Bowden - Apr 15, 2024

Questions are being asked about whether the mass release of lanterns as part of a popular Central Otago Festival can safely go ahead.

Last year close to a thousand of the lanterns rose into the night sky above Cromwell as part of the town's annual Light Up Winter festival.

Now new information from Fire and Emergency New Zealand has the local council considering whether the tradition should continue.

Central Otago District Council's Dylan Rushbrook says although the council has received no complaints about this aspect of the winter festival, it has become aware of guidance from FENZ on it.

On its website, under guidance on 'sky lanterns', FENZ "strongly advises against" lighting them.

"At the very least, keep any sky lanterns tethered. Do not release them," the advice says.

As a result, the council has pressed pause on a decision on whether to fund the festival, which is organised by the Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group, while further talks are underway.

"At this stage no decision has been reached as to whether the event can proceed as planned. This decision will be made once the event organisers have met with council and FENZ staff," Mr Rushbrook says.

The Cromwell Community Board’s promotions fund has been applied to as part of a larger application by the Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group to support Light Up Winter.

The promotion group has now been advised its grant application will proceed with the Light Up Winter portion not being considered if the event has not been given approval to go ahead by the time of the next Cromwell Community Board meeting.

"The chair (of the community board) has been advised a revised late application would be accepted should they wish to amend the Light Up Winter component of their request," Mr Rushbrook says.        

A spokesperson for FENZ confirms the organisation is in discussion with event organisers, and says the time of year of Light Up Winter lessens the risk of any unintentional fire sparking from use of the lanterns.

The spokesperson says the information on the FENZ website cautioning the use of lanterns was published prior to the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by Chinese communities, this year towards the start of February.

"This was during a prohibited fire season. The circumstances for this event (in Cromwell) are different."

They say in previous years FENZ has worked alongside organisers in the lead up to the event offering support with "risk mitigation", and it will do so again this year.

"The risk is likely to be relatively low for the time of year and time of day for which the event is planned. 

"At this stage, unless the fire risk conditions are exceptional, it would not warrant use of our fire control powers."

Youngsters light a sky lantern at Light Up Winter in Cromwell (File photo/Supplied/Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group).

The spokesperson says FENZ has not received any complaints relating to the event.

Tanya Dennis, of the Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group, says organisers are working through the council's compliance requirements.

"Our commitment to both community safety and well-being, and environmental care is of paramount importance to us, and all guidelines will be followed to ensure yet another successful event for Cromwell and districts." 

Mr Rushbrook says he is a Cromwell local and thinks Light Up Winter "has always been a calendar highlight", but he acknowledges the area has changed in the six years it has been hosting it.

"Seeing the lanterns released is truly magical and it has made for some fantastic imagery over the years.

"But, thinking practically, the area around the Big Fruit Reserve has changed significantly in recent time, particularly with the Wooing Tree residential development on the northern border. 

"Taking that into consideration, along with the guidance from FENZ, we are required to carry out due diligence before we can make any decisions on the future of the event."

Main image (Unsplash): Fire and Emergency New Zealand in general does not support the release of sky lanterns, but acknowledges in winter in Cromwell the risk of wildfire from them can be mitigated.

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