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New festival to come to the Coachella Valley?

Group wants to light up desert skies with lanterns

New festival to come to the Coachella...

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Another festival to come to the Coachella Valley? Maybe, but not yet.

One group would like to light up the sky with lanterns instead of stage lights.

Twenty thousand people from around the world venture to the Moapa River Reservation outside of Las Vegas each year for the annual RiSE Festival.

The event creates a space for guests to reflect and record their thoughts on paper lanterns and launch them in unison.

Attendees call it powerful, some saying it is like, "seeing thousands of wishes being granted."

The co-founder of the RiSE Festival, Jeff Gehring said he and his collaborators had seen lantern launches in Thailand and wanted to bring the practice to America. So far it has been limited to Nevada, but Gehring said they are trying to expand.

The Coachella Valley is a location they are considering.

"That's a festival savvy location," Gehring said. "There's a lot of infrastructure for a festival like ours."

The problem? Under California law, anyone caught launching sky lanterns could face charges because they are considered a fire hazard.

"When they float up, sometimes they don't go very high up. Sometimes the winds carry them and [they] can get carried into some palm trees," CAL FIRE Chief Rick Griggs said, "Those can be up to 150 feet tall and very dry out in the desert."

Griggs said lantern launches became a concern in Southern California after a surge in popularity in the last two years.

"We've been called before because people didn't know what the flames were in the sky, but we've also been called because they've landed on houses," Griggs said.

According to Grirggs, any festival looking to bring lanterns to the Coachella Valley would need to get local approval and permission from the state Fire Marshal's Office. He noted Nevada is less restrictive in many of their fire laws than California.

Gehring said the lanterns used at the RiSE festival are engineered to have a finite burn time. He said the controlled environment of the festival, where weather patterns and winds are constantly being monitored, creates a safe place for launching.

Gehring said most of the lanterns are collected after the launch as well once they have come back to the ground, but the few that get away are 100 percent biodegradable.

Biodegradable or not, Griggs said lanterns can be a serious fire threat with consequences for those who launch them. He says anyone releasing sky lanterns can be held responsible for the cost of fire suppression, but Gehring believes with the festival team's expertise, the risk can be worth the reward.

"I guess I could go into hoping that it grows and goes into other locations, but really that it remains pure and continues to provide the spiritual cleansing and the hope to the people it provides it for because to us, that's really what it's about," Gehring said.

Recently, a different group of sky lantern launchers called the Lights Festival announced the introduction of their operation in multiple locations that list sky lanterns as fire hazards. Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego were included on that list. When we contacted them for more information, they declined to comment.


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