The decade-long tradition of lighting bonfires on Scituate beaches on July 3 will come to an end this year, as town officials have banned the practice townwide.
In the wake of the March fires in Humarock, where a fire caused by a radio had four houses engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes, Scituate officials said they had been fortunate that nothing similar has ever happened during the Fourth of July festivities.
“It has been going on for many generations, but we’ve been lucky…that someone hasn’t fallen in or personal property hasn’t been damaged. Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead and stop any bonfires,” said Selectman Shawn Harris during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Selectman Tony Vegnani said that everything depended on wind direction. Had the wind been blowing off the water instead of towards it in March, all of Humarock could have caught fire.
The potential for something similar to happen with dozens of bonfires off the beach was too great to continue the practice.
“It will be difficult to maintain, but it’s a safety issue, and not only the fire, but it draws a lot of people there …[which is] an issue on top of the fire,” Vegnani said. “We get many emails from residents that don’t support it, and it’s time to put those big dangerous fires out of the mix.”
Selectman Jo Norton said he hoped the early decision to ban bonfires would give residents enough time to make other plans.
Going forward, police personnel will be monitoring people that are stockpiling wood down at the waterfront, which will have to be removed.
Signs will be posted around town and on the town’s website about the new practice, and pamphlets will be delivered to all beachfront houses.
Anyone caught building or lighting a bonfire will be arrested and the fire immediately put out, officials said.
In the past, bonfires have raged out of control, mostly in the Humarock area of Scituate, which is accessible only through Marshfield. Last year was the first time the town regulated bonfires, requiring permits for those beachfront residents who wanted to host one.
According to Fire Chief Richard Judge, the town sold 50 bonfire permits last year – all of them for Humarock.
Yet after seeing the devastation the house fires caused in March, stopping the tradition was “a no-brainer,” Judge said.
Moreover, the tide will be higher this year, which would have brought bonfires up closer to the houses.
“The houses are in such close proximity, and there is limited access… we need to think twice about burning Humarock down,” Judge said.
Mark Davis, a Humarock resident and the homeowner of one of the four houses that was burnt to the ground in March, attended Tuesday’s meeting and wholeheartedly supported the measure.
“If anyone needs a reminder [why we are doing this], they can look at the houses there. And it wasn’t for [the fire department], we would have lost 100 houses. If it ever got past that opening, people would have died, and it would have been in the hundreds,” he said. “I have built 100 fires myself and I have no problem taking a year off…thank you for standing up and getting it done.”