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Virginia prohibits releasing the paper lanterns into the air, Virginia Department of Fire Programs spokesman Mark Buff said. However, “constantly attended” votives are permitted. An example of this is the white paper bags weighted down with sand and tea lights that line the courses of events such as the American Cancer Society-sponsored Relay for Life, or perhaps a home driveway display during the winter holidays.

Mr. Buff said local governments have the option of amending the fire code “to make it even more restrictive, meaning some localities may have total bans on these devices, even if they are constantly attended.”

David Craig, of Sky Lanterns USA in Winchester, Va., said he’s seen an uptick in the paper lantern business, but “we like to caution our customers that, first off, they have to obey the laws of their locality or state.

“With anything that has an open, exposed flame you’re going to have to be careful and use good common sense,” he added.

Mr. Craig advised that people who want to use the lanterns should keep a bucket of water nearby and never light them when there’s a noticeable wind.

“The intent for the sky lantern is for it to fly and the flame extinguishes itself,” Mr. Craig said. “But like most products that have risks associated with it, it’s not the product, it’s the use.”