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Scituate claims success with Fourth of July bonfire ban

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  July 5, 2012 12:57 PM

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After banning bonfires in Scituate for the first time in decades, town officials said the July Fourth holiday went better than expected.

With few exceptions, people refrained from hosting bonfires on the beach, crowds into Humarock and other parts of Scituate were minor, and overall, people did as they were told, Scituate officials said.

“The people were compliant, most of them -- 99.5 percent. We had a couple of people that found tradition hard to break, but all in all, it went fairly well,” Scituate Fire Chief Richard Judge said on Thursday.

“We still had the usual issues - intoxicated youths and intoxicated people in general. But the crowds were down a little bit, which helped. No issues with fires. There were a lot of fireworks, but that’s almost impossible to contain.”

Scituate officials last month decided to ban all bonfires on town beaches, and cited the first in March that eventually destroyed three homes.

Although the fire in March began with a malfunctioning radio, and not bonfires, safety personnel and local representatives grew wary of the potential for tragedy, especially after seeing how quickly the March fire spread.

In late June, selectmen announced that they would not allow any bonfires in town, and told residents anyone found stockpiling wood at the waterfront would be asked to remove it.

Signs were subsequently posted throughout town and notifications updated to the town’s website, warning residents that they would be arrested if they did not follow the town’s new rules.

A bevy of safety personnel were brought out last Tuesday and Wednesday night to enforce the mandate.

According to Judge, Scituate had approximately eight state troopers, several officers from the Plymouth County Sherriff’s Department, and the entire Scituate Police Department on duty on July 4 and roaming both Humarock and the mainland of Scituate.

An extra ambulance and two extra fire engineers were also down near Humarock, “just in case,” Judge said.

According to Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi, there were few issues.

Only 12 people were arrested between July 3 and 4, only three of which were Scituate residents. Though some were arrested for disorderly conduct, two individuals were arrested in a confrontation that arose over starting a bonfire in Humarock.

Overall, however, people were happy that the town decided to buck tradition, where fires have raged out of control by the waterfront in the past.

"I understand from the officers in the field that a number of people thanked them for finaliy instituting the ban. We got a lot of messages and phone calls when the board voted it," Vinchesi said.

According to Selectman Joseph Norton, people on Scituate's mainland beaches - Peggotty, Minot, and Sand Hills to name a few - had a wonderful time with no problems. Elsewhere, residents appreciated the ban.

"We had some great response from people in Humarock who quietly told the town to keep it up and they appreciate that we’re trying to do. And we appreciate their remakrs. Overall it was a very successful night," he said.

However not everyone was pleased.

Several residents in Humarock were upset with the town for taking away the tradition, Vinchesi said.

Yet according to Vinchesi, although the Fire Chief has discretion to issue permits for bonfires, under state law, only civic organizations can receive permits for bonfires between July 2 and July 6 for purposes of ceremonial festivities.

"Folks thought we were trying to crack down on something they were entitled to. While this was certainly vested with tradition, it didn’t have the blessing of state law," Vinchesi said.

Contained cooking fires were still allowed on the beach, Vinchesi said, but the ban helped crack down on bonfires that had gotten out of hand.

Scituate officials will be having a meeting to discuss what went well and what should change, but Judge was confident that the mandate would be continued next year.

“It’s a dangerous situation. If conditions are perfect and tide is out and wind isn’t blowing, [it’s not a problem] but it always changes,” Judge said. “It put a lot of people’s minds at ease not having the bonfires. We will continue to do that.”

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