The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 15, 2013

‘Fire balloons’ a burning issue

Weren’t ours, say WaterFire reps

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — WaterFire Sharon organizers didn’t authorize or encourage sale and/or use of Chinese lanterns that ended up being a part of Saturday’s “Up and Around” festivities that closed the inaugural season of the event.

The lanterns – called “fire balloons” by city resident Ronald Mahonovich in a letter to the editor he dropped off Monday – could pose a fire hazard, he said.

There was no actual damage reported from the lanterns. Mahonovich picked one up that was partially burned from a sidewalk, he wrote in his letter.

WaterFire Sharon Director of Operations Jennifer Barborak was appalled at the issue, especially because the paper lanterns were held together with wire, and she helped clean up the remains of some of them as people cleaned up from Saturday’s celebration.

“We weren’t selling them,” Barborak said.

WaterFire Sharon organizers had intended to set off 20 similar lanterns, but decided against it because of breezy conditions Saturday.

“Ours were 100 percent biodegradable,” she said. “Rick (Barborak’s husband) would never allow one of them that wasn’t biodegradable.”

“We stopped as soon as we thought they would be a hazard,” she said.

But an unauthorized street entrepreneur managed to skirt the vendor screening process, apparently.

“It was not sanctioned by WaterFire,” event chairman Bob Wilson said.

It exposes an issue that will be addressed during next year’s slate of events, Wilson said.

“We have to have control onsite,” Wilson said.

WaterFire has attempted to tell vendors what the “rule of engagement” are and the only non-food vendors were supposed to be peddling works of art.

“People were having fun with them,” Wilson said of the lanterns. “I can see where it could be misconstrued as being part of the event. It’s something moving forward we’re going to address.”

“We don’t know who was selling them,” he said.

It’s another part of the “learning curve” WaterFire volunteers have hurdled this year as three successful events were held this year.

WaterFire is trademarked and started in Providence, R.I., where it’s lauded as leading an economic revitalization there.

It features braziers which are anchored in a river that hold fires stoked with aromatic wood that’s the spark that culminates day-long arts and cultural festival.

“I think we’re doing a real positive thing for the community,” Wilson said.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement generated,” by the events, Barborak said.