CHINESE flying lanterns caused the car fire which marked Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue’s final emergency response of 2011 – and also the tree fire which marked the service’s first call-out of 2012.

Firefighters from Gerrards Cross were called to a car fire in Albion Road, Chalfont St Giles, just before midnight. A lantern landed on the road near the car and was blown underneath it by the wind, said the service this morning.

Forty minutes later the same crew was call to a fire in Howards Thicket, Gerrards Cross, where a lantern had become caught up in a tree.

Firefighters are again urging people to take extra care when using these lanterns to celebrate special events.

Flying lanterns – also known as sky lanterns and Chinese lanterns – are usually made of paper, wire and bamboo and contain a lit candle. They can rise to more than 1,000 feet, fly for up to 20 minutes and float for miles before landing.

Chris Bailey, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, said: “You can’t control the direction they take or where they will land.

“There is no guarantee that the fuel source will be fully extinguished and cooled when the lantern lands, and that’s a real fire hazard.”

He said unsuitable locations for flying lanterns included areas near telephone and power lines, areas near standing crops, anywhere near buildings with thatched roofs, areas of dense woodland and areas of heath or bracken.

As well as being a potential fire hazard, the lanterns often contain wire which can kill or injure animals, damage farm machinery or end up in animal feed.

Last year the BFP reported on Lane End farmer Will Lacey’s call to ban the lanterns after three of his cows suffered agonising deaths when they digested metal wire from lanterns which landed on the farm.

The lanterns have also tied up a great deal of emergency service time over the years because they are sometimes mistaken for UFOs or distress flares.