Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The New Year's Eve bonfire: Back on? Seems so.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 24, 2008 at 3:06 AM

After a day of meetings with city officials, the spokeswoman for the ad hoc committee organized to save the annual Mid-City bonfire says that it appears the decades-old tradition will once again take place in the neutral ground of Orleans Avenue.

"This was a much cooler situation," said Virginia Blanque, vice-president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Association, who led the citizen group that met this afternoon at City Hall with Councilwoman Shelley Midura and New Orleans fire superintendent Charles Parent. Blanque was referencing last night's heated community meeting at Grace Episcopal Church, where more than 150 residents -- nearly all in favor of the fire -- spoke their piece to members of the New Orleans fire and police departments, as well as Midura and Councilman-at-large Arnie Fielkow.

Blanque and the citizen group had gone to the city with a list of possible suggestions and compromises, which included moving the bonfire to the neutral ground in front of the American Can Co. on Orleans Avenue -- but the city agreed on the original location. What changed?

"Go figure," said Blanque.

The agreement hammered out included new parameters for the size of the bonfire, which some residents felt had gotten too large in recent years. This year's fire will be contained in a 12-foot square area, but the traditional tinder -- old Christmas trees -- will be used. Welding cloth and other fireproofing materials will be employed. Fireworks (which are against Orleans Parish law to begin with) will be cracked down upon, and community monitors will work the crowd, seeking voluntary cooperation from bonfiregoers. A $75 permit will be required, and the north side of the neutral ground in the 4200 block of Orleans Avenue will be closed. Should weather conditions be unfavorable or unsafe, the NOFD would have the discretion to modify or close down the bonfire.

Blanque's group has sent a letter of understanding to Maj. Gregory Elder of the NOPD Third District, and the final piece of the puzzle, according to Blanque, is securing cooperation from the Department of Parks & Parkways, which will require the posting of a surety bond, some funds for which are already being volunteered.

"It's not Endymion; it's not a whole-evening thing," Blanque said. "People start showing up around 10 o'clock, the fire is lit at midnight, and it's all over by 12:15 and people walk home. Our feeling was: Let's get this together and get it right. And if it falls apart -- well, the onus is on us."

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