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CB Council on board with Vinotok fire for September 23

“We have come a long way from last year”

By Mark Reaman

There will be a bonfire on Saturday, September 23 at the Crested Butte Four-way Stop as part of the Vinotok finale. That event, which has taken place for the last 32 years, was sometimes in doubt over the last 11 months, with the town expressing a “loss of trust” in the event after the 2016 fire and with a recent threat of a lawsuit being the latest obstacle. But most everyone seems to be on the same page now and the Town Council approved the special event application at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Town staff made it clear that there was some trust lost when in 2016 the organizers had worked with town staff and even tested fire configurations that were agreed upon by all parties. But the fire specifications that were agreed to were not used when it came time for the construction of the actual fire. The event was allowed to continue by local safety personnel because the town received three inches of snow the day of the fire.

Town staff and chief marshal Mike Reily in particular made it clear they were extremely disappointed that the agreed-upon plan was not followed. It was apparent that the town would prohibit the bonfire unless changes were made. Since then the Vinotok fire organizers and town have worked cooperatively to lay out specific parameters for the fire. Test fires have been conducted and everyone agrees to abide by the new specs.

“We have a comfort level that we can move forward, contingent upon that what we see on the street that day is the same as the sample fire,” Reily told the Town Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Town manager Dara MacDonald concurred. “There was an issue of trust after last year but we have come together and seen a real commitment from Vinotok,” she said. “So long as that continues, the staff is comfortable. If there is a deviation from the fire example, Mike has the authority to stop the fire. But I think we have come a long way from last year.”

A couple of neighbors with homes close to the fire site are counting on that commitment as well. Two families had hired local attorney Marcus Lock to negotiate with the Vinotok organizers and town to try to move the fire to a new location starting in 2018. They had offered Vinotok money to agree to move the fire after 2017. If no agreement could be reached, they had threatened to go to court to try to stop this year’s event.

The Vinotok council’s fire committee reached out to the neighbors through a letter to attorney Lock and tried to allay their concerns. They promised “to work collaboratively to address their concerns and enhance their sense of safety and security around the event. We would like to have the opportunity to ‘debrief’ the event with them after it has occurred, to truly evaluate any real impacts on them and identify areas of improvements.”

The Vinotok council offered them free admission to all events, including the community feast “so they can gain a better understanding of the deep roots of the celebration and its cultural significance to the community.”

Event organizers have scheduled a “Community Round Table” on November 1 to discuss and review how the fire rite went and the neighbors were invited.

Lock sent a letter to the Vinotok council and the town after receiving the correspondence, saying his clients had decided to not file an action with the court prior to the 2017 fire. “Instead they currently intend to evaluate the 2017 event and monitor it for compliance with the promises and representations made about it will be conducted.”

The Vinotok council said it would consider accepting a financial gift to investigate alternative sites for the fire. The money would be used “for the construction and maintenance of features, facilities, and amenities needed to perform the rite in 2018 and in perpetuity.”

On Tuesday, the Town Council agreed to issue the special event permit with the understanding there would be no fire spinners performing as part of the event. That element had not been cleared with the fire department.

Mayor Glenn Michel read a part of the staff memo at the meeting making it very clear that if the fire did not adhere to the agreed-upon plan, Reily would have the authority to pull the plug. Everyone agreed to the conditions and a new type of fire is slated to be lit at the Four-way Stop on September 23. Oats and Corn…

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