Neighbors raise Vinotok fire concerns with council

Embers raining down in the neighborhood

by Mark Reaman

Not everyone is a fan of every aspect of Vinotok. People living in the neighborhood where the fire takes place have expressed their concern many times about the danger of embers blowing around the fall festival. This year is no different.

Cathy Steinberger lives a half block from the Chamber of Commerce parking lot where the fire is held. She said while the 2014 fire seemed a bit more mellow after another neighbor brought up major concerns in 2013, this year was back to being a headache. She said she left town for the festivities but her neighbors said “embers were raining down” throughout the neighborhood. Steinberger said she returned home to see some of her new patio furniture with burn holes in the mesh from the Saturday evening fire.

“I’m fired up about this,” she told the Town Council at their Monday, October 5 meeting. “It’s not a NIMBY [not in my back yard] thing. It has become a real hazard. There are some fun parts with Vinotok but the fire has brought major safety and environmental concerns. I think it needs a new home.”

Steinberger suggested the fire perhaps take place out by the Gronk and Peanut Lake east of town. “The sparks, embers, ash and smoke are an issue every year. Why do we in the neighborhood have to put up with it all? Plus, the marshals closed some of the block to vehicles on Saturday and that just wasn’t right. What more do you want us to endure? It’s not a family event any more. People wander around drunk long after the fire. It’s not just a few hours. I feel like the event is just waiting for something bad to happen.”

Town manager Todd Crossett relayed that the town marshals had a busy night but nothing that wasn’t expected or that they didn’t handle. Chief marshal Tom Martin had commented a couple of weeks ago to the council that he felt the fire started later than usual but appeared to be in control.

“I just hope the council takes a strong look and stand with this,” Steinberger said.

Vinotok spokesperson Molly Murfee said Tuesday that the event takes great care to keep the fire safe.

“Vinotok works closely with the Crested Butte Fire Department to assure a safe fire through conversations that occur over the course of six weeks before the event,” said Murfee. “We have determined, in partnership with them for over 31 years, proper dimensions and materials for a bonfire that is safe for both the crowd and the surrounding neighborhood while still remaining true to Vinotok traditions.”

Murfee continued, “The Crested Butte fire department stations a fire truck, fully staffed, at the fire for the duration of the event and puts out the fire at the end. Additionally, the fire department deploys fire volunteers with water backpacks who patrol the neighborhood during the fire. Internally, Vinotok employs a special fire crew to watch for safety issues with the fire during the event, while the Vinotok cast has been trained to work with the crowd on the ground. The Vinotok bonfire is meticulously created through all of these measures. Fire safety is not something we take lightly and we do everything within our power to assure the safety of our friends, neighbors and visitors.”

The council didn’t react one way or the other after Steinberger’s comments.

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