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Casa Grande farmer says lantern lights pose major fire threat to her farm

Pinal County farmer Rose Robertson isn't happy with the Pinal County Fairgrounds or the company who's sponsored the Lantern Light Festival.

They’re popular events all over the country – and across Arizona.

But as more and more lantern lighting festivals spring up, there are questions about just how safe they really are.

The sight is stunning, floating lanterns filled with flames, lighting up the night sky. But for farmer Rose Robertson, the aftermath was anything but that.

Robertson’s cotton farm is just a quarter-mile from the Pinal County Fairgrounds, where for the past five years, including earlier this month, the Night Lights Sky Lantern Festival has been held.

This year, her fields were littered with lanterns.

"I think it’s irresponsible to light a fire and walk away from it. You can’t light a campfire and walk away from it," said Robertson.

Robertson's family has been farming on this land for nearly 100 years. She's been working with the Pinal County Fairgrounds to put the lantern launches to a stop, but at this point, she’s made little progress.

“So in 2016 they had it, and the lanterns landed on my property. In 2017, I sent a letter asking them to not trespass or light lanterns and they let lit them anyway. They didn’t go on my property in 2017 and 2018, but they did in 2019," said Robertson.

I reached out to the Pinal County Fairgrounds and Commissioner Stephen Miller, who represents Robertson’s district. 

Commissioner Miller told me he’s aware of the issue and he’s working with the county attorney’s office to come up with a solution and permitting process.

As for Rose Robertson – she just wants a fix soon so this 100-year-old farm doesn’t go up in flames.

"During harvest, every time we come up on a lantern, we have to stop and get the lantern out of the way. We picked up another 30 of them in the field," Robertson said. 

I reached out to the company that runs the event, Night Lights Sky Lantern Festival. They gave me this statement from owner Spencer Humiston:

"We at Night Lights appreciate and value our relationship with Pinal County Fairgrounds and the community of Casa Grande. We work closely with local businesses, volunteers, municipal authorities, and fire officials to ensure our event is a positive and safe experience for everyone involved. In fact, this year alone we donated over $6,000 to Mission Heights Preparatory in Casa Grande.

"While we understand and appreciate concerns regarding the lanterns, we are deeply committed to proper fire safety prevention before, during, and after the event. This year alone we have launched over 120,000 lanterns at over 20 events without a single safety incident- fire or otherwise. We begin working with local fire and event officials months before the event to ensure all possible issues are properly addressed.

"The day after the event we have a team of lanterns chasers comb the area and pick up all the lanterns. By 5 pm the day after the event we have picked up 99% of the lanterns, and we continue to check the area several days after the event to ensure we haven't missed any.

"We hope, and continue to believe, that we will be able to work through any reasonable issues related to this event, and that we will be able to bring the magic of Night Lights back to the Pinal Fairgrounds in 2020."