Fireworks Dealer Sues Michigan City Over Sky Lanterns

A pyrotechnic retailer is suing a Michigan community over a fire marshal’s enforcement of a local ordinance prohibiting the sale and use of sky lanterns.

Black Diamond Fireworks has filed suit against the City of Sterling Heights claiming that an ordinance prohibiting sky lanterns is illegal. The company’s attorney, Steve Kaplan, was quoted as saying “only the Legislature can determine which fireworks are legal or illegal.”

Sky lanterns, also known as Chinese Lanterns, function like small balloons but are made of paper. The are propelled upward by heat from a small candle or a fuel cell. Esthetically, sky lanterns glow as they rise into the sky. From a fire safety perspective, sky lanterns have been associated with numerous structure and wildland fires. They are little more than floating fires waiting to land on additional fuel. For that reason sky lanterns have been outlawed in many countries.

On June 14, 2016, a city inspection found sky lanterns for sale at Black Diamond Fireworks, and the fire marshal ordered their removal by the next day. The citation cautioned “Failure to comply will result in civil infraction ticket and confiscation of prohibited lanterns.”

Black Diamond complied, but filed suit last week in Macomb County Circuit Court challenging the citation and the ordinance. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but rather seeks a declaratory judgment that the sky lanterns are “fireworks” under the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, and can only be regulated by the state.

Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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