Lanterns are a 'threat to life': senior MP speaks out following the biggest fire ever seen at a West Midlands factory

Calls for a ban on Chinese lanterns are made after one is understood to have started a fire causing £6million in damage

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A senior Liberal Democrat MP has called for "immensely dangerous" Chinese lanterns to be banned after one is believed to have started a huge blaze at a recycling centre on Sunday evening.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Lib Dem party president, said that after a fire as serious as the Jayplas recycling plant a ban should brought in to prevent similar incidents and "appalling tragedy".

Mr 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.

"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."

Since the fire broke out on Sunday evening, investigators have established that a lantern - captured on CCTV falling on to the site - was to blame for the blaze in Smethwick, near Birmingham. Tackling the blaze required 200 firefighters and caused £6 million of damage.

Vij 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.

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.

On Monday Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich took to Twitter to say that the fire should "spell the end of Chinese lanterns" and the National Farmers Unit called for people to "think twice about releasing them into the air because of the very real dangers they pose". 

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. None have been seriously hurt.

Additional reporting by PA

Video: Lantern caused Smethwick fire