THEY certainly look pretty – spectacular, even, if they are let off in enough numbers. But surely the time has come to extinguish the flames of the Chinese flying lanterns once and for all.

You will all have seen them: a paper-covered wire frame held aloft by an open flame attached beneath, which can fly off – sometimes for miles – before plummeting back to earth when the flame finally goes out.

Indeed, the stunning sight of them serenely floating up against a darkening sky belies the problems they frequently cause. In particular the fire risk and the danger posed to animals.

At around 1am on New Year’s Day morning, shortly after a warning from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue went out about their use, a still-lit flying lantern landed on a roof in Holmer Green. Fortunately it was a single-storey roof and the quick thinking residents extinguished the flames before a blaze could take hold and much harm could be done (see page 2). But that could have been a very different story had they not spotted the pyrotechnic pest as soon as it hit home.

A few years ago, again on New Year’s Eve, a falling lantern set fire to a car in Chalfont St Peter and then shortly afterwards another led to a tree fire in Gerrards Cross.

The lanterns have actually been quite a source of stories for the BFP over the years. Not only have there been plenty of safety warnings and outraged farmers, but they also used to be regularly mistaken for UFOs before their use became more common. I recall we reported several times on confused residents’ belief that ETs were apparently preparing to make first contact with Chalfont St Peter or some other similarly unlikely outpost in Bucks.

But despite the odd bit of Spielbergian sci-fi excitement they have provided in years gone by, it seems well past time they were wiped from our skies once and for all.

This may all sound a bit killjoyish and health-and-safety-gone-mad and all the rest of it – but the fact is, these fires have happened with enough regularity that this is not a pie in the sky risk. One day they are bound to cause a blaze that leaves someone hurt or worse.

And the thought of animals dying agonising deaths thanks to the fragments of wire or wood they ingest or wire ripping into their stomachs and causing internal bleeding is pretty horrifying. Yet that is exactly what happened to some livestock at a Lane End farm in 2011.

The RSPCA also warns that animals can become entangled in fallen lantern frames, often leaving them injured, stressed or even starving to death. Letting them fly out over the sea is no better – with warnings going out that marine life can be endangered by lanterns falling into the ocean. Even though lots of the frames are billed as biodegradable nowadays, this can apparently refer to a bamboo frame, which can still take years or even decades to degrade.

So, a few oohs and ahhs aside when they are first lit, it seems to me the pitfalls of these things far outweigh the benefits and they should just be banned before they do any more serious harm.

And even once you get past the fire dangers and risk to animals, littering is littering, whether it looks all nice and floaty at high altitudes first or not.