Bonfires light up a social evening

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    By Bremen Leak

    It”s Friday night. Do you know where your bonfire is? For the social butterfly unafraid of mosquitoes, bonfires foster fun and friendship as well as a necessity to safe keep others and protect the environment.

    “I like bonfires because it”s an opportunity to get away from the city and just relax, talk with friends and have a good time,” said Adam Riggs, a junior from Denver majoring in communications. In the last two weekends, Riggs and his friends have toasted marshmallows at Utah Lake, Rock Canyon and Provo Canyon, the most popular sites for a fireside chat.

    When Mary Shaffer invited a few friends to a bonfire last weekend at Utah Lake, word of the event spread like, well, a wildfire. To her surprise, nearly 200 people attended the event.

    “I have no idea how they caught wind of it,” said Shaffer, a visual arts major from Blue Springs, Mo. “They heard about it from somebody else from somebody else. Honestly, it was so weird because I was like, I know you but I didn”t invite you. . . It was cool.”

    Like fluttering moths to the backyard porch light, bonfires draw swarms of friendly young people, but not without the occasional stinger. Though Shaffer”s bonfire was a roaring success, county deputies say sometimes what may look like a gentle porch light might actually turn out to be a giant bug zapper.

    “Anytime you have a large gathering of people, there”s a potential for violence and drug and alcohol use,” said Sergeant D. Gilbert of Utah County Sheriff Department. “We”ll stop in and talk to anybody and everybody we can.”

    Police patrol is common, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, with safety officers checking in almost hourly at places like Sandy Beach and west Geneva Road, where lakeside parties are popular. Party-goers who obey the law need not fear the patrols as long as they remember a couple of safety guidelines, Gilbert said.

    “Number one, make sure it”s legal to have fires, because at certain times of the year there are fire restrictions,” Gilbert said. “Number two, make sure to extinguish your fires and secure your items. Make sure you know who you”re going with and don”t leave your vehicle unlocked.”

    Kevin Cortez, assistant fire warden of Utah County, said bonfires should be at least 10 feet from nearby structures and free of trees and power lines. Improved sites-fire pits lined with rock-are available in national forests and within the county.

    “If it”s county property, use the improved sites,” he said. “If it”s an unincorporated area like down by the lake, use discretion, and generally speaking, you should be all right.”

    Cortez said the most important thing to bring to a bonfire is common sense.

    “Don”t pour gasoline all over the thing,” he said. “You don”t want anybody torching their eyebrows off.”

    Social butterflies should check fire restrictions online at utahfireinfo.gov before flickering toward the light. In the end, it may come down to a choice between common sense and marshmallows. If so, bonfire lovers had better forgo the marshmallows.

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