City reviewing use of Chinese lanterns for Armstrong tribute

Laurie Armstrong

Laurie Armstrong

Organizers of an event to honor the memory of a late youth club director hope their plans to launch Chinese lighted lanterns will take flight.

Tim Sicocan is branch executive of the Apache Junction branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley. He and friends and members of the youth organization have scheduled a memorial for the late Laurie Armstrong for Wednesday, Feb. 18, at the club, 1755 N. Idaho Road, he said during an interview.

Ms. Armstrong served as the club’s branch executive for four years. She was the victim of a murder-suicide Feb. 18 last year by her ex-husband, Brett “Kelly” Armstrong. Police believe Mr. Armstrong killed Ms. Armstrong before taking his own life, less than three weeks after the couple’s divorce was granted.

While the memorial date marks the one-year anniversary of Ms. Armstrong’s death, the event is intended to be a celebration of her life, Ms. Sicocan said.

Organizers would like to launch the lanterns at about 5:45 p.m. — just as the sun is setting — so they could uplift attendees’ spirits, the same effect Ms. Armstrong had on the community, he said.

“We want this to be impactful. Our goal is to remember Laurie in a positive way, to empower male and female members about the power of positive relationships and let people in crisis know there is help,” he said.

He brainstormed ideas for the tribute with club members and staff, and they liked the idea of launching paper lanterns that are lifted by fuel into the sky.

Dave Montgomery, assistant fire chief for the Superstition Fire and Medical District, is researching whether the lanterns are allowed by the Fire Code as well as safety risks they might present.

“We have way more concerns than good news. They have a long record of causing fires and damage. We’re looking at all the options,” Mr. Montgomery said during a phone interview.

Mr. Montgomery said this is the first request of its kind that the fire district has received. He said the Fire Code has ambiguous language about aerial devices but no specific language that could prohibit the lanterns from being launched. He also said other Valley jurisdictions have banned their use. The Apache Junction City Code does not prohibit the lanterns, Constance Halonen-Wilson, the city’s spokeswoman, said in an e-mail response to questions.

“Additionally, Assistant Chief Montgomery is working closely with the Boys and Girls Club to ensure the safety of the community and those involved; he is keeping the city updated on those efforts,” Ms. Halonen-Wilson said.

Mr. Montgomery said he is concerned that the aerial device has an open flame.

“These things can travel up to 1,000 yards and burn for up to 15 minutes. That’s something that creates an unknown hazard,” Mr. Montgomery said.

Legislation to ban sky lanterns in Arizona was proposed last year but went nowhere, Fred Durham, assistant state fire marshal with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said during a phone interview. He said the state has prohibited their use during wildfire season, but they are legal in the state as far as the state is concerned.

“It all boils down to common sense,” Mr. Durham said.

He said he is aware of some “rather spectacular fires” caused by Chinese lanterns, such as the one in 2013 that produced a 6,000-foot-tall smoke plume and destroyed a recycling plant in England, according to www.bbc.com, but has not heard of any in Arizona.

Lanterns or not, a memorial will take place Feb. 18, Mr. Sicocan said.

“We’ll find some other form to pay tribute to Laurie,” he said. “She had an impact on the entire community. We want everyone to be included.”

For more information, call the Apache Junction branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs at 480-982-6381 or visit www.clubzona.org/locations/apache_junction.

Reach staff writer Wendy Miller at wmiller@newszap.com

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