Rhinecliff, NY. There are few things that can be more mesmerizing than a bonfire, with gradients of oranges and yellows popping up sporadically and sparks and smoke piercing the sky. On the same token, the way in which a fire can bring people together as a community is equally rich.
Saturday, January 27 was the perfect day for Rhinebeck Grange #896 to hold its first Winter Bonfire in Rhinecliff at Firemen’s Field. The event was the idea of Grangers, Sue Sie and Richard Kopyscianski, who noticed a need for holiday tree clean up in the Hamlet and came up with a productive solution. Twenty trees from around the Rhinecliff Fire Protective District were picked up from people’s homes earlier in the day by Grangers, Joe Baer and Kopyscianski, while several more were delivered directly to the burn.
At 4pm, people began to gather as the fire was set and the first tree was tossed into the embers. Commented Granger, Evelyn Gartner, “It’s a sobering thing to see how fast a fir tree goes up in flames and crazy to think that people used to decorate their holiday trees with candles.” It is not surprising that according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 200 home structure fires per year that began with Christmas trees in 2011-2015. These fires caused an annual average of 6 civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $14.8 million in direct property damage.
As a group of 40-50 people gathered, a batch of stone soup became heartier as guests brought freshly cut vegetables and added them to the broth. Granger, Sue Sie arrived with banjo in tow and an ad hoc band played in the background.
The Rhinecliff Volunteer Fire Company stood by in case any mishaps occurred. Said Rhinecliff’s Fire Captain, Jake Euell, “We were happy to help out at this event. We enjoy hanging out and it gave our newer members and opportunity to have a dowsing drill with live fire conditions.”