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Ban Chinese Lanterns, Says Lib Dem Tim Farron After They Cause Massive Fire In Smethwick (PICTURES)

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Chinese lanterns must be banned before they cause a fatal fire, a senior Liberal Democrat MP said after one started a huge blaze at a recycling centre.

Tim Farron, who has been campaigning for some time against their use because of farmers' concerns about the impact on crops and livestock, said they are "immensely dangerous".

Investigators have established that a lantern - captured on CCTV falling on to the site - was to blame for the blaze in Smethwick, near Birmingham, which was tackled by 200 firefighters and caused £6 million of damage.

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CCTV footage showed a lantern falling onto the site

Vijith Randeniya, chief fire officer of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, said it was time that "sensible people have a sensible discussion" about the issue.

Farron said it had taken a major incident in an urban area in which it was "extremely lucky" that no-one was killed to bring home the dangers of the lanterns, which farmers in his rural Cumbrian constituency have been warning about for several years.

"It is laudable for governments to take their time and be cautious about banning things but the evidence now very strongly points towards that ban," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today.

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"This could be repeated again and it could have a loss of life attached to it which would be an absolutely appalling tragedy.

"I think all of us would feel utterly, utterly appalling if we had failed to take action when we had the chance."

He went on: "They are spectacular things so I am loath to ban them or to seek to ban them. But they are immensely dangerous.

"The Spanish, who are a pretty fun-loving group, have banned them in recent years as well because of the impact on livestock, on crops and indeed property and potentially the threat to life."

The Chief Fire Officers' Association has called for an urgent review.

It wants fire services nationally to look at the possibility of working with councils, police and trading standards officers to discourage the use of lanterns, including the possibility that licences for public events could be withheld if there are plans to release lanterns, and exploring whether legal claims for damages could be brought against people who release them.

Lanterns have also caused many false alarms when they have been mistaken for shipping distress flares off the coast.

Fire crews are expected to remain at the recycling plant today, where they have been using plant machinery to "break up" bales of plastic to get at the heart of the blaze.

A total of 11 firefighters have been treated for a variety of injuries, with three taken to hospital, although none have been seriously hurt.

Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Lib Dem party president, said: "The clamour for action to be taken has come originally from the farming community.

"It has taken an incident like this in an urban environment to really bring this to the headlines.

"I don't think governments should be knee-jerk in outlawing things but, if you look back, I have been doing this for some time alongside others, like the NFU.

"I think the majority of MPs have perhaps only become aware of this recently because the majority of MPs don't represent rural constituencies where this is deemed to be a bigger threat."

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Major Fire In Smethwick, West Midlands
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