Phuket Opinion: Fire lanterns out of control

PHUKET: The festive season is upon us and visitors from around the world continue to pour into Phuket in what is shaping up to be a banner high season for tourism – at least in terms of arrivals.

Use of khom loy (“fire lanterns”) is increasingly common during festivals in Phuket and the night sky above our island was replete with the glowing craft during the recent Loy Krathong festival.

With the monsoon season due to end soon, the skies are clearing and conditions for releasing the fire-driven lanterns are improving. This fact, coupled with the rapid rise in the number of tourists and the profits to be made from entertaining them, seems a sure-fire recipe for a record number of lanterns to be floating above us in the coming months.

The sight of these lanterns slowly rising aloft certainly holds a mysterious, romantic and quintessentially Asian appeal, but too much of anything is rarely good. Excessive, uncontrolled use of the khom loy is now becoming a problem, both in terms of safety and the environment.

What goes up must come down.

While mankind’s successful launching of never-to-return space probes may have rendered that statement technically inaccurate, we have yet to hear of a khom loy achieving the escape velocity needed to carry it into the heavens.

They invariably return to the land, or as is often the case in Phuket, into local waters already overburdened with man-made debris. During the New Year celebrations in Patong, it is common to see them land on and around the scores expensive yachts anchored in the bay.

Because of the potential danger to aviation, Phuket International Airport year declared a ‘no-fly zone’ for fire lanterns within a radius of several kilometers from the airport. But that restriction seems to have either floated away or fallen into non-enforcement.

During the Red Cross Fair, lanterns were being sent off in windy conditions from an area next to the central stage at Saphan Hin. Many narrowly passed over the heads of hundreds of people eating at tables nearby. Another flew into the branches of a pine tree and set it alight.

Despite the obvious hazards the operator was creating, at no point did any official step in to tell him to give it a break.

The dangers posed by khom loy were a topic at the recent governor’s gathering of honorary consuls. It is already against the law to release them without a permit, yet one can buy them openly at some of the island’s best known shopping malls, and rogue vendors are ever-present at large public festivals.

The situation could be rectified overnight if existing laws were enforced. Police wouldn’t even have to arrest offenders; consistent on-the-spot seizure of stock would probably be enough to dissuade them from trying it again.

Let’s do this and restrict the khom loy to hotels and other private events organized by people who have respect for the law, public safety and the environment.

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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