On Saturday evening, sparks, embers and ash floated up toward a bright starry sky as onlookers bundled against the winter chill gathered around a raging bonfire.
Uniformed firefighters tossed old Christmas trees and pallets onto the fire every few minutes, eliciting a fresh round of embers and exclamations of awe from the crowd.
The fifth annual Fernie on Fire was a successful event, drawing community members outside for a night of fun by firelight.
“The holidays get so hectic and people are coming and going and this is just that first Saturday where we celebrate each other and just have a good time,” said event organizer Dennis Schafer. “It’s all smiles and everyone really does love it.”
Schafer, who used to be a city councillor, is responsible for bringing the Christmas tree burning event to Fernie. After five years of trees up in flames, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the origins of the popular event, he said.
The idea for Fernie on Fire came from a man named Kurt Decker, according to Schafer. Decker grew up in Red Deer where he frequented the yearly Christmas tree burn and thought that the Fernie community might enjoy a similar event. He brought the idea to Schafer who then brought it forward to city council.
“It was voted on through resolution and accepted,” Schafer recalled. After that, “I got a hold of the fire chief and he said to show up to one of the supper meetings that the firefighters have and so I did that. I presented my idea and it was well received.”
With help from Steve Kallies and Nick Howard, Schafer was ready to proceed with the first annual event. He remembered driving around town, searching for possible venues for the event.
“Finally we decided on it and it was over in the old Fas Gas parking lot,” said Schafer. After a while, the event was moved to its current location beside the outdoor skating rink at the Fernie Aquatic Centre.
According to Schafer, the success of the event often depends on the weather.
“The first year was -25 degrees and all the beers were freezing,” he recalled. Despite the various conditions Fernie on Fire has endured over the years, it is now a community favourite.
This year, the Fernie Nordic Society helped with setting up the event and will pocket some of the proceeds and donations.
“I just want to thank the firefighters, the City of Fernie and the community members that show up and donate because it just brings smiles to everyone’s face and it’s massive. In my books anyways,” said Schafer.