HALTON families marking the Chinese year today are being urged to think about where and when they use sky lanterns by a naional safety charity.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is reminding people that wind conditions and location play a crucial part in preventing lanterns sparking an unnecessary fire, or creating a false alarm near the coast.

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser, said: “We want people to enjoy Chinese New Year but also remember that there are actually very limited conditions and locations when sky lanterns should be used.

“If families are using sky lanterns, we recommend checking the weather forecast as they should not be launched if the wind speed is 5mph or more, and always choose the location very wisely. We urge people not to use sky lanterns near built-up areas, roads, crops, hay bales, trees, power lines, airports or the coast.”

Chinese lanterns have been blamed for causing several fires in recent years.

Lanterns also pose a particular fire risk to thatched roofs and crops and can be a distraction to pilots approaching airports.

Coastguard services have reported cases of lanterns being mistaken for a distress flare after being released near the coast, resulting in a waste of valuable time and resources.

RoSPA is offering advice:

• A lantern should not be launched if winds are 5mph or more

• Do not launch within 5 miles of any airfield, airport or near the coast where lanterns may be interpreted as a distress signal

• Do not use near built-up areas, roads, crops, hay bales, trees or power lines

• Do not launch a lantern if any part of it is damaged

• Follow operating instructions very carefully and have a fire extinguisher or water nearby

• A lantern is not suitable for children under 16 and is not a toy - it should be launched by two adults

• Do not launch under the influence of alcohol.

Chinese lanterns are made from thin fire retardant paper but contain a small candle or fuel cell, which when lit, heats the air and sends them rising into the air.

Once the heat reduces, a lantern will float back to the ground, but the spot where it lands is unpredictable.