, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2014

Up in flames

Annual bonfire bash brings the community together

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — Editor's note: This event has been postponed until Saturday, Jan. 25.

This weekend, Newbury will wave goodbye to the holiday season in dramatic fashion.

For the fourth year in a row, three to five stories of Christmas trees will be burned during Saturday’s Old Newbury Bonfire Bash.

“You can see this fire from space,” said Nathan Walker, a captain in the Newbury Fire Department.

A fundraiser for Newbury Fire Rescue, the annual event is a collaboration between the volunteer fire company, Historic New England and Tendercrop Farm.

The fire stations in Newbury and Byfield have been collecting trees over the past couple of weeks and will continue to accept them at 3 Morgan Ave. until 10 a.m. tomorrow, Walker said. Trees can also be brought directly to Tendercrop tomorrow and Saturday.

The bonfire will be lit around 5 p.m. on Tendercrop’s growing fields, depending on the wind and the crowd, which included 6,800 people last year. Although showers are in the forecast for Saturday, the event is rain or shine, Walker said.

“Christmas trees will burn no matter what,” he said.

In fact, the bonfire will continue long after the last guest has departed for the evening.

“Most of us will be attending the fire until the wee hours of the morning,” said Walker, who added that firefighters will use “a couple of thousand gallons” of water and move the trees around with an excavator to slow the flames down.

“When it first goes up, it’s incredible. It’s just enormous,” said Bethany Groff, regional manager for Historic New England. “It burns really brilliantly for a while.”

The celebration built around the bonfire fully embraces the holiday theme, with activities including a Christmas tree toss and kissing ball cornhole, complete with a special board crafted by firefighters.

“We put Christmas to bed in a really fun way,” Groff said. “It’s wonderful to see everybody bundled up and outside having such a good time.”

Walker and Groff will co-host Saturday’s bash, which runs from 3 to 9 p.m. and also features live and silent auctions, games, a treasure hunt, music, raffles, and a variety of food and beverages from local vendors.

Tendercrop will offer kielbasa and sauerkraut, peach and apple crisp with ice cream, and baked beans, according to farm controller Tyler Matteson.

Walker will also serve as auctioneer for the live auction, which is “enhanced this year,” he said. One lucky bidder will even get to light the bonfire. Other items up for grabs include an Ipswich Ale tap truck rental, a Hank Walker goose decoy and the opportunity to ride to school in a firetruck.

While the majority of activities will take place on the fields at 71 High Road, the adjacent Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm will host an open house from 3 to 6. Visitors can tour the 1690 manor home, which is run by Historic New England, and enjoy hot cider and doughnuts.

“We are so excited to have people at the farm, especially in January,” Groff said.

Coincidentally, the annual event lines up with the anniversary of the official purchase of Newbury on Jan. 10, 1701, Groff said. She discovered this fact while trying to find a “signature date” for the permit application.

“I said, ‘I’ll bet I can find something in Newbury history that’s going to be so interesting we can hang our hat on it,’” she said. “I found a copy of the deed of the town of Newbury, and it was signed right around the date we had planned for. It was a great little find.”

In addition to the three organizations sponsoring the bonfire bash, local emergency management agencies and police departments, seven other fire departments, and “countless volunteers” are all key contributors, Walker said. SPS New England and Prime Coatings, businesses run by the Capolupo family of Salisbury, provide the lighting units, road signs and other safety-related items.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Walker said.

Matteson, who said he will be on hand Saturday to help Tendercrop owner Matt Kozazcki, is looking forward to seeing everyone come out for the celebration.

“I think it’s a great community event,” he said. “It’s something that we’re all proud of.”

He’s even looking forward to Sunday’s cleanup, which includes picking up all the little pieces of metal from ornaments that were accidentally left behind on trees.

“It’s a little bit of a chore, but it’s worth it,” he said.


If you go

What: Old Newbury Bonfire Bash

When: Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m.

Where: Activities, vendors and bonfire at Tendercrop Farm growing fields, 71 High Road, Newbury. Open house until 6 p.m. at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, 5 Little’s Lane.

How much: Free admission. Parking is available for $5 at either Tendercrop or Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm.

More information: 978-462-2282 or