Since the dawn of history, autumn bonfires have always been festive occasions. Some early cave paintings represented successful hunts and tribal bonfires. The reasons aren’t that much different today. College students gather around the big blaze to cheer a sports victory or drum up enthusiasm for the next one.
In these times of concerns about clean air and other environmental issues, it seems bonfires are becoming rituals of the past. However, if you’ve been appointed boss of a planned bonfire, you may want it to be both successful and safe. Your list of concerns may include:
1. Be sure you’re absolutely clear about laws in the area where you plan to set the fire. If you meet opposition from environmental groups, you must be prepared to move the event to another location, or cancel it. If, after being banned from staging the fire, you still need to create something similar for the occasion, you have various choices.
If your event is after dark, you may set up banks of brightly colored circling floodlights synchronized with appropriate music. Another idea is to erect a large, above and around the crowd screen with a powerful projection system similar to the one over downtown Las Vegas. Using video, you can project images of fire, fireworks or whatever else you want to imitate bonfire sound and sight effects.
2. If you plan a real bonfire, choose an isolated field or parking lot that is safely far away from trees, buildings or anything else inflammable. Make absolutely sure it’s in a safe location, and you are totally familiar with all the laws and restrictions involved.
3. Set up your fire area to be covered by an adequate water supply, with hoses, sand buckets and other emergency fire quelling equipment. Have several trained volunteers or professional firefighters present throughout the event.
4. Use cut logs and other heavy wood as your fuel. Nothing should on the fire should be made of glass, plastic or other item that could possible explode when exposed to the fire. Additionally, don’t burn books, magazines nor newspapers. Not only could the gesture be considered politically incorrect, but the burning embers could float away to injure members of the crowd or possible reach houses and other nearby buildings.
5. Choose a theme. The usual one is based on a recent local sports victory or drumming up enthusiasm for the upcoming game with a hated rival team. Other theme options could be to celebrate the end of a school year, voting in new student officers or a costume event. Ask every attendee to dress up for the burning of Rome, sacking of Troy, storming the Bastille, landing on DDay or all-Western theme marking the end of the cattle drive.
For any bonfire celebration, add appropriate music, sound effects and music for attendees to sing as they dance around the fire. How about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”, or Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” or if your gang is really into classics, Richard Wagner’s Magic Fire Music from “Die Walkure”.
If the school band is present, have them lead the march around the bonfire with “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Whether you volunteer or are drafted to organize a bonfire, be sure to take every safety precaution. Then make it the biggest, best and brightest bonfire ever seen.