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Beltane 2006

Come on Baby, Light My Fire
by Zabet Stewart

Many cultures have a tradition of bonfire jumping, and in modern Western Pagan communities, that tradition happens on May 1st - Beltane, or May Day as it also called. You can quibble over the actual date used by ancient Pagans, and what with calendar changes. moon cycles, and the blooming of certain plants it's all up in the air. May 1st is now the accepted date, as it falls neatly, if approximately, between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.

Pagan or not, you have to appreciate the beauty of a well built bonfire. Those leaping and dancing flames are incandescent bodies of gas that move and twist as they are affected by gravity and movement of the air around them. I can only suppose it's that they are potentially dangerous but not solid (and therefore easy to scatter) which arouses our inner daredevil. I'm sure we are only convinced that it is a good idea because we are slightly hypnotized by the swirling light and the sound of the rushing air. Well, and there's probably alcohol involved, too.

Which brings me to my point: fire safety. I shouldn't have to tell you how hot even an average campfire can get, and how the ashes can smolder for days on end if not properly put out. I shouldn't have to, but every year yahoos manage to hurt themselves leaping over bonfires. I call it Natural Selection in action.

Bonfire DOs:
1. If you're planning on having a fire with yahoos leaping over it, DO keep it small. A large raging bonfire looks great, but unless you have any Olympic pole vaulting medal winners attending, no one is going to safely clear the woodpile.

2. DO appoint a fire marshal. Fire is fascinating and everyone is going to want to have a hand in stoking the fire, which may lead to a larger fire than you had planned on or could safely jump. The fire marshal should also have the last say on who is allowed to jump, and should be responsible for putting out the fire completely when your event is over.

3. DO build your fire in a large, clear area with level ground. Not all fire-jumping injuries are burn-related; some are inflicted during a poor landing.

4. DO build your fire with wood items, and light it only using firelighters.

5. DO keep a small fire extinguisher, a large heavy blanket, and a first aid kit on hand. You never know when you're going to have to extinguish someone or something.

6. DO remember your scouting days, or pretend to, when putting out the fire. Keep plenty of water and a shovel on hand. Douse the fire with water, followed by stirring to check for burning embers, followed by more water, and repeat until you can touch it and it's no longer warm. Don't skimp on this step - only you can prevent forest fires.

7. DO practice ahead of time if you're going to be jumping. At the apex of the flame is the wrong time to realize that you don't have as much jumping capacity as you thought you did, or that you're not quite coordinated enough to make a safe landing. Be honest with yourself.

Bonfire DON'Ts:
1. DON'T let anyone intoxicated by alcohol or any other substance try to jump the fire. Of course, these are going to be the folks who want to do it the most. The appointed fire marshal may need a sergeant-at-arms to help out.

2. DON'T use gasoline, kerosene, or paraffin to help start the fire as this can lead to an uncontrolled spread of fire or explosion.

3. DON'T burn aerosol cans, cans of paint, or anything rubber or plastic (including tires). In fact, it's a good idea to not burn anything that you would consider for trash or recycling.

4. DON'T wear lose clothing if you are jumping. Many a Gypsy Faerie Princess have met their doom this way. In fact, if possible, wear something thick and protective, perhaps leather.

Related Links:
What Exactly Is Fire?

Fire in Microgravity

Jumping Fire in Iran

Jumping Fire in Greece

Outdoor Fire Safety


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