Bonfires, fireworks light the way for Papa Noel - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Bonfires, fireworks light the way for Papa Noel

Updated:

JANET McCONNAUGHEY
Associated Press
    
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Mark Anderson built a painstaking replica of the plantation home where he grew up just so he can burn it down. It's among 125 bonfires to be set ablaze in a Christmas Eve tradition in the river parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
    
Bonfire history goes back at least a century, maybe 250 years or more. Tradition has it that the fires light Papa Noel's way downriver.
    
Most of the fires are the traditional teepee shape that once towered scores of feet atop the Mississippi River levee along the 12-mile stretch from Convent, some 40 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, to Gramercy, about 45 miles east of New Orleans.
    
The first bonfire Anderson remembers was in the early 1970s, when he was 8 or 10 years old. He figures he was 4½ feet tall, and the hole for the center pole was about 5 feet deep.
    
"I was lowered into the hole by my ankles, digging with a tin cup," he said.
    
Now permits limit the center hole to 18 inches. And only four "specials" like his are allowed each year. Permits for those cost the same as any other, $30 and attendance at a bonfire safety class, said Lutcher Fire Department Chief Jason Amato.
    
This year, the other three are the letters LSU, a manger scene and a tank.
    
Lighting time was 7 p.m. Amato expected the spectacle to bring 50,000 viewers, most of them in cars creeping along at 5 mph.
    
Anderson's is a one-20th-scale replica of Welham Plantation, with a chimney at each end, a second-floor balcony, tall windows on the first two floors, and a high attic with gable windows. The widow's walk atop its shingled roof is the regulation 20 feet above the ground; the structure is 24 feet wide and 12 feet deep - also regulation.
    
The plantation home was torn down in 1979 to make way for a refinery that was never built.
    
Anderson said his first special, last year, was a replica of Poche Plantation, where he runs a B&B.  He's planning a new tradition of his own: creating bonfire replicas of lost and forgotten plantations.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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