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Groton’s hottest tradition: The Christmas tree bonfire

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GROTON — Many who showed up for last week’s annual Christmas tree bonfire felt that the incendiary event had firmly taken its place among other, more established, town traditions.

“When we began, all we had was a pile of Christmas trees, a bow and arrow, and some diesel fuel,” remarked Park Commissioner Donald Black. “And this year we have a pile of Christmas trees, diesel fuel, a bow and arrow, coffee, hot chocolate and chili. Now we have better equipment and the whole thing has become quite an event, one that I hope will go on for years. After all, what else are you going to do with all these Christmas trees?”

Black, who helped organize the first bonfire as part of the town’s 350th anniversary in 2005, was among hundreds of residents and out-of-town visitors who crowded the area behind the public library, facing the town field, where a huge stack of 300 to 400 former Christmas trees had been piled, awaiting immolation.

The event this year was hosted by the Fire Department, which had trucks and firefighters in full “call-out” gear present to monitor the bonfire and make sure everything was done safely.

In charge of related fund-raising activities were the personnel of Lost Lake Engine and Hose Company 3, who were on hand selling much-needed hot drinks and chili for residents shaking off the evening’s low temperatures.

“We expected a good turnout,” said Lt. Tyler Shute as he stamped his feet to keep warm. “I think events like this are great and there should be more of them in town. But for tonight, we just wanted to give people something to go to on a winter night.”

Children of all ages were not disappointed in the least when the time came for the main event, as firefighters first circled the pile of trees, dousing it with fuel. Anticipation only mounted as the lighting of a blow torch took several tries but once lit, an arrow was touched to the flame, fitted to a compound bow and shot into the pile of trees.

Immediately, the trees burst into flame. In just a few moments, the fire had engulfed the entire pile, sending out a wave of heat and flying embers that drove spectators back from where they had been pressing in for a better look.

The bonfire roared with a life of its own, quickly consuming the trees.

“This is very cool,” said the town’s new police chief, Donald Palma, seemingly unaware of the irony. “Acton, the town where I served before coming to Groton, had nothing like this!”

“I’ve been in the Air Force for a while and this has been my first real New England fall and winter,” said John Riedell, who was visiting from Worcester. “Groton has a great idea with the bonfire and it’s a way to do something with old Christmas trees.”

But Riverbend Drive resident Paul Hanson may have best summed up the feelings of everyone who attended last week’s bonfire when he concluded that, “It’s what makes Groton Groton!”

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