FIREFIGHTERS are warning of the problems caused by paper lanterns in the countdown to Chinese New Year which starts on January 31.

Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service says lighting the lanterns forms a part of the festivities but they can pose a fire risk.

The lanterns are generally made from paper, supported by a frame that incorporates a holder at the base for a solid fuel heat source, said the fire service.

They can often lift to a height of over 1,200ft, fly for up to 20 minutes and once the fuel cell has expired the lanterns float back to earth.

The fire service warns that as well as being a potential fire risk they can cause harm to cattle and be confused with distress flares.

Chinese New Year 2014 begins on 31 January and marks the start of the Year of the Horse.

To coincide with the celebrations, firefighters say they will be engaging with Cumbria’s Chinese community to raise awareness of the precautions people can take to reduce the risk of fire.

Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s tips when using Chinese lanterns are as follows: - Always consider the local environment for the launch site and intended flight path.

- Lanterns should be used by responsible adults only - Water should be on hand in case the lantern catches fire - The launch area should be kept clear of combustible materials.

- Damaged lanterns should not be used.

- Ensure sufficient clearance to avoid obstacles such as trees, powerlines or buildings.

- Avoid launching near busy roads, especially major roads and motorways.

- Avoid standing crops.

- Do not launch within five miles of an airport.

- Do not launch in wind speeds in excess of 5mph - Check wind direction before launch.

Cumbria’s Assistant Chief Fire Officer Adrian Buckle said: “Paper lanterns can pose a real fire risk as once they’re launched the direction they head in can’t be controlled and when they land there’s no guarantee the fuel will be fully extinguished and cooled.

“In a rural county like Cumbria they can be a particular danger to livestock and farmland so anybody using them needs to be fully aware of the risks and take precautions to minimise the dangers.”