by Kevin Allman
About 24 hours ago, we posted the flier informing Mid-City residents that the traditional New Year's Eve bonfire in the neutral ground of Orleans Avenue was being cancelled this year by a coalition of the NOPD, the NOFD, and the Department of Parks & Parkways. (Not that dragging your old Christmas trees into the neutral ground and setting them ablaze was ever completely legal.) In the one day since then, the New Orleans blogosphere has caught a bit of fire themselves.
A Web site, Save the Bonfire, was put up this morning by Mark Folse, blogger and Mid-City resident, and in less than a day Save the Bonfire received 120 votes from visitors -- 96% of whom support letting the bonfire continue in its present form, or allowing it with strict restrictions on individual fireworks (which are illegal in Orleans Parish).
Folse got the flier in his mailbox this morning, and immediately fired off emails to Councilmembers Shelley Midura, Arnie Fielkow, and Jackie Clarkson. As of tonight, the only response he's gotten has been from Midura:
The bonfire is against the law. I have sworn to uphold the law as an
elected official. My position is clear: The Fire Department believes this
situation is extremely dangerous, and it is against the law.
For more public reaction -- including a YouTube video of the scofflaw blaze, hit the jump...
"It's just that the flyer presented it as a done deal," Folse explains, saying that he and other Mid-City residents are open to other, less populated venues for the bonfire, including the neutral ground on Marconi Blvd. or near the U.S. Post Office on Bayou St. John. "We just wanted a dialogue where we could seek a compromise." As for Monday's public meeting where the rules will be explained, Folse says, "I think there will be a large turnout. The [Mardi Gras parading] Indians have been down this road before, the second-liners have been down this road before. Why do you [the city] come to this and say it's not going to happen, instead of: Can we talk about this?"
Theres nothing I want to do on New Years Eve except run around the Christmas-tree bonfire on Orleans Avenue. New Years Eve is usually a big let-down, but the bonfire is fantastic. I would probably just stay home otherwise....
Many of my neighbors are getting pretty fired up about this. Its too symbolic to pass quietly. Symbols matter. I expect there will be quite a turnout for the meeting Monday night. And I suspect there will be a bonfire on Orleans Avenue this New Years Eve.
I do care about the immediate neighbors on Orleans Avenue. If they want it shut down, well, I cant say I blame them. Id respect their wishes. But if they largely support the bonfire in some form, then the best approach is harm reduction. The bonfires gonna happen, so how can it be made as safe as possible?
Instead of focusing on this event, why not try to ticket the hundreds of people who shoot firearms in the air on New Years? Or spend some time doing police work so we don't have to live in the murder capital of the world. The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization asked if there was anyway to get a permit to hold the bonfire, and they were told no....
People who live here are going to fight when outsiders try to take away these cultural events. We don't want to live in anytown U.S.A. New Orleans has unique traditions that need to be defended.
Folse said he tried to call the New Orleans Fire Department's non-emergency line to see if he could discuss the decision with a fire official, but received a recording telling him to call back during office hours: "But I was calling during office hours, so I don't know what to do."
He sums up his reaction with a question: "There is so much to beat you down in this city, so when they do something like this, you have to ask: Why?"
And if you want to judge for yourself -- harmless rowdy tradition or dangerous public nuisance? -- here's a video of the 2007 bonfire: