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State: No plans to end lake tradition

Thursday, September 05, 2013 - Updated: 11:59 AM


For The Recorder

MAYFIELD -- State law enforcement officials say they do not intend to throw water on an end-of-summer tradition around the Great Sacandaga Lake.

The Ring of Fire, which takes place each year on the Sunday before Labor Day, is an event that dates back to 1988, during which residents light bonfires on beaches around the lake.

This year, however, some controversy arose when the state Department of Environmental Conservation stopped a large bonfire from being lit Sunday at the Sunset Bay Vacation Resort in Mayfield. DEC officers reportedly told the resort manager that the wood pile was too high.

Peter Constantakes, the DEC's acting director of public information, said the Sunset Bay bonfire and one other were the only ones barred from participating.

"Several people along the lake were directed to remove some adulterated wood from their piles as painted or treated wood, plywood and chipboard can cause health effects from the smoke," he said.

Sunset Bay Manager Rick O'Dell said he was advised to no longer comment on the situation.

However, an eyewitness who asked to remain anonymous said he was upset by what happened.

"All of a sudden, Rick was approached by DEC forest rangers and told he was not allowed to have the fire," the witness said. "There was nothing wrong with the bonfire. It was large, but many around the lake are. There was no pressure treated wood, and no reason to force us to quit.

"We had tons of people there for the Ring of Fire," the eyewitness added. "The campsite was packed. I have family myself come up for it. It was so disappointing. I can't tell you how many people were shocked, let down and angry."

Dave Winchell, a spokesman for the DEC, said "no one was singled out, no one was fined, and no tickets were issued."

When asked specifically why the Sunset Bay fire was stopped from being lit, Winchell said a ranger spotted the enormous burn pile from a distance, and in turn asked the participants not to light it. State officials were also concerned about the size and location of some of the piles for safety reasons.

According to DEC regulations on open burning, everything is prohibited in New York state with the exception of small cooking fires, or campfires less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length, width or diameter.

The guidelines ask that only charcoal or clean, untreated or unpainted wood be burned, that no fire should be left unattended, and all fires should be fully extinguished when finished.

The DEC regulation also specifically states ceremonial or celebratory bonfires are allowed, such as the Sacandaga's Ring of Fire.

Constantakes said the annual tradition should be allowed to continue, and that the incidents on Sunday were specific to those bonfires.

"The DEC is not trying to end the long-held tradition of the Ring of Fire on Great Sacandaga Lake," he said.

The rest of the Ring of Fire continued without incident as an estimated hundreds of bonfires were seen lit on the shores of the lake Sunday night.

Fires were lit at dusk, and the goal of the tradition is to create an illusion of a ring of fire encircling the lake.

In Northville, following a large fireworks display seen by hundreds of people on the beach outside of Sport Island Pub, a giant pyre consisting of pallets, trees, and wood debris was lit on the pub's beach.

Several spectators stood along the Northville Bridge to watch the fireworks and bonfires after they were lit.

The Ring of Fire was started by Agnes Gilbert of Mayfield, according to a story written by Randy Gardinier of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fisheries Federation. According to the story, originally published in 2010 in the Sacandaga Express, Gilbert got the idea from a similar tradition that takes place on Keuka Lake in Western New York.


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