Hemelt: Turtle bonfire, other delights lighting up another Christmas Eve

Published 12:04 am Saturday, December 23, 2017

The coolest snapping turtle in St. John the Baptist Parish is just days away from going up in flames.

Conceived and then created by the minds and muscle of Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires, this local group of Christmas Eve bonfire enthusiasts has truly outdone themselves this year.

“Pretty much, our goal is keep Garyville on the map,” Cavin Richmond said. “We try to make it move for the kids and the attention it brings. We are even cutting up little old pieces of wood so when the mouth opens up, they can throw the cookies in the turtle’s mouth.

“The plan for Christmas Eve is hoping the weather is nice, burn it, have a good time and hope everyone enjoys it. I want everybody who wants to, to come by and see it before it goes up in flames.”

Many cars and trucks were pulled over Thursday in Garyville to see the turtle bonfire.

Richmond said he is one of nine in the group that works all year long either conceiving, drawing up or building the bonfires, noting the group in on the levee each Thanksgiving Day — the first day they are allowed to — getting that year’s Christmas Eve bonfire in shape.

If all works out, this year’s bonfire starts the flaming process at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“We pretty much think about it all year long,” Richmond said. “As soon as one year’s (bonfire) burns to the ground, we start thinking about the next year, coming up with different ideas of what we will build this year.”

The 2016 Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires effort featured a huge crawfish that utilized pulleys to create a snapping claw.

This year’s turtle has a head that moves in and out of its shell while also snapping its jaw.

“It’s something you have never seen before,” Richmond said. “I really can’t come up with a word to describe it but ‘amazing.’ Most people would probably be mad that we are burning it. We try to top ourselves every year and come up with something better. It turned out great and is the most detailed bonfire we have done.”

Richmond, who lives in Garyville across the street from the group’s latest creation, said group members love when passersby stop driving and pull over at the sight of the turtle.

St. John Parish bonfires are more regulated this year, as those built on top of the levee from West 10th Street to Central Avenue are restricted to 10 feet in height, down from the previous limit of 15 feet high. Parish officials have cited open barges on the Mississippi River with potentially flammable products inside as a reason for more muted bonfires.

The West St. John High Rams Championship Trophy bonfire in Edgard was designed by Gala Holden and constructed by Frankie B, D Quinn Williams, Kevin Wright, Casamier August, Ro Shavers, Gala Holden II and Gaige Holden. It was sponsored by Charo Holden.

Although troubling to some, the new restrictions have not stopped the dozens of constructed bonfires that line the East and West Banks of St. John and St. James Parishes. Some are 10 feet tall, others are 15 and one is a snapping turtle.

When asked how much wood was needed for Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires’ latest construction, Richmond joked he had no idea but said it took numerous trips into the woods that resulted in 90 to 100 trees each. All that work keeps a tradition alive, one that lights the way this Christmas Eve for all River Parishes families to enjoy.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.