THE West Midlands' top fireman has welcomed the decision by Tesco to stop selling controversial sky lanterns.

The supermarket this week announced it would stop selling the lanterns - a form of Chinese lantern which is set alight and left to float into the air like a mini hot air balloon.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer Mark Yates said he "applauded" the decision and hoped other retailers took the same action.

"Sky lanterns are undoubtedly a beautiful sight when they float in to the sky but as we have found both locally and nationally, on occasions when they come to ground there can be devastating consequences including fire and danger to livestock, he said.

"I truly hope other retailers looks at Tesco’s lead and follow it.”

The service launched an investigation in November last year after more than 80 caravans at Croft Farm Waterpark in Bredons Hardwick, site of the popular annual Lakefest festival, were destroyed in a devastating fire believed to have been caused by a Chinese lantern.

Tesco's agriculture director Tom Hind said this week the decision was "the right thing to do".

“We have listened to the feedback from customers and other groups including the farming community, he said. "We will not be sending any more stock to stores and any existing stock should be gone within a matter of weeks.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has warned the lanterns - which are traditionally launched at the start of the Chinese New Year - can pose a fire risk to thatched roofs and crops and can be a distraction to pilots.

Coatguard services have reported some cases of the lanterns released near the coastline being mistaken for distress flares.

The organisation’s public health adviser Sheila Merrill said she hoped anyone celebrating the Chinese New Year this weekend would be extremely careful when using sky lanterns.

“We recommend checking the weather forecast as they should not be launched if the wind speed is five mph or more and always choose the location very wisely," she said.

"We urge people not to use sky lanterns near built-up areas, roads, crops, hay bales, trees, power lines, airports or the coast.”

The lanterns were blamed for the devastating fire at the Jayplas recycling plant in Smethwick last July in which 100,000 tons of recycled plastic and paper went up in smoke.