Revelers drenched trying to stop Juneau firefighters dousing bonfire

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Firefighters doused a North Douglas bonfire over the Labor Day weekend, drenching more than a dozen revelers who tried to stop them.

Witnesses estimated that as many as 200 people showed up for the celebratory blaze Sunday night on city land across North Douglas Highway.

Police said they got calls from parents asked them to check out the gathering, which witnesses said included drinking. Firefighters said police told them the blaze was spreading.

Officers arrived about 8:30 p.m. and over the next few hours repeatedly asked the crowd to disperse. Two fire trucks and an ambulance arrived about 11 p.m. and firefighters began spraying water and fire retardant foam on the fire.

Gwen Place, 21, said firefighters were not targeting people, but celebrants refused to leave and stood in front of the blaze.

''I got wet, but some people got soaked - dripping wet and shivering,'' Place told the Juneau Empire.

Angela Milligan, 15, said people joined hands and circled the fire.

''They were yelling 'Keep it alive, save the fire,''' she said. ''The hose squirted up over the people onto the fire. Then people were jumping in front the hose, into the water.''

Place and others said the bonfire has been an annual event in North Douglas for the past five years. A large wooden man is built each year and burned in effigy, similar to the Burning Man, an annual counterculture event in the northern Nevada desert. Place said the crowd included families earlier in the evening.

John Ingalls, 57, said four or five cords of wood were burning when he arrived about 10 p.m.

''The fire was pretty spectacular at that time,'' Ingalls said.

The situation escalated over the next hour, witnesses said.

Ingalls said about 60 people watched as a dozen others resisted firefighters' attempts to put out the fire.

''People were yelling at them, giving them the finger, blocking the cops,'' Ingalls said. ''I didn't see any malice on the part of the cops at all or the fire department.''

''When they got the fire down to the point where they could get close to it, they came in and started pulling it apart,'' he said. ''As the firemen were pulling the logs out of the fire, people were putting them back in.''

Police Capt. Tom Porter said Tuesday no arrests were made Sunday night.

Mike Fenster, division chief for Capital City Fire and Rescue, said burn permits are not required for campfires or barbecues but they are required for any fire on city property. A beach fire might be different, depending on where it is, Fenster said, but this fire was on an empty lot.

After authorities left the scene, people restarted the fire, according to Ingalls.

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