CHARLOTTE—Thousands of people who attended a lantern festival in Gastonia this weekend, received an unexpected memory, and probably not the kind organizers hoped.
A nearby cell phone tower caught on fire when the wind shifted, pushing several burning lanterns into the tower. Viewers sent Time Warner Cable News amazing pictures and video from Saturday night. As the sun set on the Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, thousands of lanterns filled the sky.
"It was really, really cool,” said participant Samantha Haynes. “It was beautiful. A lot of people there, more than I was expecting to be there."
Haynes was just one of many snapping pictures and taking video. Enjoying what was supposed to be a fun filled, relatively low-key kind of night. With a shift in the wind, everything changed. Lanterns meant to light up the sky, were doing so in a very unexpected way.
"My first thought was I hope this is not what's fixing to happen. But it wound up happening. Our second thought was how are we going to get that far up to put the fire up,” said Union Road Volunteer Fire Department Chief Craig Huffstetler.
The Union Road Fire Department was already on hand in case there were any injuries or brush fires. But the cell phone tower quickly threw several challenges their way. Their ladder truck couldn't reach all the way up to the fire, there were no fire hydrants nearby, and they'd never fought a fire quite like this one.
"The atmosphere was pretty calm,” said another participant Alyson Willis. “Everyone was surprised and in shock, watching the action happen. It started off with one lantern then a couple of them hitting the tower and the fire was bigger and bigger."
It took 20 firefighters, nearly 6,000 gallons of water, help from a neighboring department. And maybe a little luck to finally get the fire out.
There's no word on how heavily the tower was damaged or if it's still working. We reached out to the company who hosted the lantern festival but never received a call back.