Lantern Fest at York Expo Center leaves debris; return in doubt

Lantern Fest comes to the York Expo Center May 12.

Paper lanterns released as part of a new festival at the York Expo Center last weekend caused concern when many landed in nearby streets — prompting questions of whether the event should return next year.

Thousands of lanterns — made out of cardboard and tissue paper — were released into the sky above the fairgrounds for the county's first Lantern Fest on Saturday, July 28.

Organizers said the lanterns would not be a hazard because the fire would burn up the cardboard within three or four minutes, said West Manchester Township Fire Chief Clif Laughman.

But though the cardboard disintegrated, "whole pieces" of the tissue paper bags were left to float down to the street level, blocking traffic on Market Street and Richland Avenue, he said.

"Some said it was smoking coming down," he added, but the biggest hazard was debris in the roadways, with lanterns landing as far as West Princess Street.

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Organizers took to the streets after the festival to collect the lanterns, coming back on Sunday and Monday to ensure the roads were clear, though Laughman noted the department and homeowners did have some cleanup to do.

One benefit was that the flames were out by the time the lanterns fell, Laughman said, noting he didn't see any fires, people getting burned or scorch marks anywhere.

West York Police Chief Matt Millsaps and York City Fire Chief David Michaels confirmed there were no fires as a result of the lanterns.

Only one report of a lantern on fire came in, and it landed in the area of Market and Richland but did not cause any issues, Millsaps said.

Laughman said the department is working with the York Expo Center to decide if it's safe to have another event.

"Safety is paramount," he said.

The department met with center officials Monday, but Laughman said at this time, he is unsure if the festival will go on next year.

Though he said he does not know of any resident calls to the department or the center about concerns, many took to social media to sound off about the lanterns.

Millsaps noted West York response personnel had heard a lot of talk in the community from concerned residents.

Brianna Holmes, communications director for the York Expo Center and York Fair, said she'd heard about problems through news and social media but management had not received any direct complaints.

Festival organizers are in favor of bringing it back next year, she said, but will consider what's best for the community, with suggestions from the fire department.

She said they plan to implement the same safety protocols, should the festival return, including having the fire department on hand, as well as security and fire police.