34th Annual Festival of the Bonfires to proceed with extra precautions

Published 12:10 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

St. James Parish — Despite the unusually dry conditions leading to a burn ban across Louisiana this year, the 34th Annual Festival of the Bonfires is set to take place from Dec. 8 to Dec. 10 in St. James Parish.

The decision comes after the recent lifting of the burn ban in the parish, as announced by St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne during a Facebook Live broadcast on Nov. 17.

“This year is the second-driest year in St. James Parish in the last 129 years, according to drought.gov,” said Dufresne during the broadcast.

The decision to proceed with the festival was solidified by the intention to uphold the long-standing tradition of lighting the bonfires on Christmas Eve in light of recent rainfall in the area.

“We are currently 20+ inches below the normal annual rainfall for our area, and that resulted in a state-wide burn ban. Last week, we experienced a decent amount of rain,” Dufresne said. “I met on Monday night with our fire chief and several members of our volunteer fire department. It is of everyone’s opinion that St. James Parish is now in a much better position to opt out of the burn ban.”

Addressing safety concerns, festival board member Ashley Hymel assured the public, “As far as the burn ban, we will have our Fire Department and Acadian Services on festival grounds and on the levee for the Friday and Saturday nights lighting.”

However, Hymel mentioned the cancellation of this year’s firework show on Saturday as a precautionary measure.

“For Christmas Eve, no extra precautions have been stated at this time,” Hymel said. “All extra precautions are still being discussed and will be stated at a later date.”

The festival’s schedule includes various events spanning the three days.

On Friday, Dec. 8, festivities will kick off at Lutcher Park from 2 p.m. to midnight, featuring a gumbo cook-off, bonfire lighting on the levee at 7 p.m., and a free bus shuttle from the festival.

Saturday, Dec. 9, will run from 9 a.m. to midnight, with activities such as a children’s pageant, Santa at the festival from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., local community performances, a teen/miss pageant at 4 p.m., and bonfire lighting on the festival grounds at 6:30 p.m.

The festival weekend will conclude on Sunday, December 10, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with highlights including the Geaux Chevrolet car show, art scholarship winners announcement, Santa at the festival from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and local community performances from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Musical performances will span all three days of the festival. More information on the music line-up can be found at festivalofthebonfires.org.

Admission to the festival is $5, with free entry for children under 5 years old or individuals over 65 years old. The organizers encourage attendees to enjoy the festivities responsibly in light of the prevailing dry conditions.