Sold out sky-lantern festival prompts concerns from Talladega County residents

MUNFORD, Ala. (WIAT) — A sold-out sky lantern festival is scheduled to come to Talladega County this Saturday, but some potential attendees are worried that a new Alabama law could stop the festivities. Others feel like the event is too dangerous, and want to see sky lanterns banned all together in the state.

The Lights Fest Birmingham-Montgomery area and Atlanta area is actually scheduled to come to the Talladega Grand Prix Raceway in Munford, Alabama. On the Lights Fest website’s FAQ section, it is explained that, “due to safety regulations, The Lights Festival is unable to hold events within city limits. To ensure we produce a safe and magical evening, Fire Marshals require our events to be held at venues with sufficient acreage and away from homes and businesses.”

However, on May 26, 2017, Governor Kay Ivey signed HB59 into law. It reads, in part,
“Relating to fire safety; to prohibit the release of sky lanterns under certain conditions; to provide penalties and in connection therewith would have as its purpose or effect the requirement of new or increased expenditure of local funds within the meaning of Amendment 621 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 111.05 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended.”

Those conditions include public gatherings of 500 or more people, and within 500 yards of a public gathering. The law goes on to say, “a violation of this section is a criminal violation punishable pursuant to Section 13A-5-12, Code of Alabama 1975.”

On one of The Lights Fest event pages for Alabama, over 1,000 people wrote that they would be attending. Thousands more indicated being interested.

Cpt. Joshua Vincent with the City of Lincoln Fire and Rescue authored an ordinance that was used as a template for the new state law.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back for us back in 2015, we had one [sky lantern] that was on fire and landed on a car going down I-20 with a family in it,” he explained.

Since the ordinance passed, Vincent said Lincoln has seen far fewer sky lanterns. He explained that in the past, they’ve been released from nearby racing venues.

“You’re essentially lighting something on fire, releasing it in the atmosphere, and have no idea where it’s going to land,” he said.

Rose Shannon owns Dry Valley Junction RV Park in Lincoln. In the past, she was constantly seeing and picking up litter left behind by the sky lanterns. However, more than once, she saw how the lanterns could be hazardous to people, property, and animals.

“I just happened to come to the back of the house to check on the RV park and saw the grass on fire near the gas tank,” she said. “Now if it had ignited that gas tank, it would have blown all of us, no telling how far.”

Although Shannon lives around 8 miles away from The Lights Fest venue at the Talladega Grand Prix Raceway, she has watched sky lanterns travel that far with a good wind gust.

“If the wind is blowing out of the south it will blow the sky lanterns over here,” she said. “If it’s blowing out of the northwest, it will blow the sky lanterns to the national forest.”

CBS 42 reached out to The Lights Fest for comment–and for answers about the number of people that will be launching lanterns at the event, but we didn’t hear back by deadline.

“Depending on how many show up over there, that’s going to determine whether it’s legal or illegal,” said Shannon.

We also reached out to the Talladega GP Raceway. We were told that organizers were meeting about the event on Friday afternoon to solidify the schedule of events and other details. At that time, CBS 42 was told that the event would go on as planned. Our subsequent calls for any updates were not immediately returned.

To learn more about The Lights Fest, go to their website here.

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