ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - A St. John the Baptist Parish emergency official believes the Christmas Eve tradition of lighting the way for Papa Noel is getting dangerously close to expanding industry and has enacted tougher height requirements in one area.
"I'm from the river parishes, and I grew up building bonfires. But at the end of the day, I look at safety for my residents," St. John EOC Director Travis Perrilloux said.
This year, for the first time, bonfires built on top of the levee in Reserve from Central Ave. to W 10th St. will not be allowed to be constructed at the usually 15 feet height limit, but instead will be limited to 10 feet.
"This is our issue. We actually have [open] barges that are stored on the Mississippi River here. They stage barges here. It's unknown what the product inside of those barges are going to be," Perrilloux said.
When asked if there could be flammable products in those open barges on Christmas Eve, Perrilloux responded "It is a possibility".
Perrilloux also wants to decrease the height in that area because the Port of Southeast Louisiana's Fire and Rescue team's boats are within the nearly mile long boundary, and there is a diesel tank on site.
A family who has a ten foot permit and complained to Fox 8 about the new height restrictions declined to comment on camera.
Perrilloux would rather an upset bonfire builder than a barge catching fire.
"We understand that everybody wants to be festive, bring in the holidays the right way. But if we do it safely, it wouldn't cause any impact to anybody, and you would enjoy it the same way with the five foot reduction," he said.
In St. John and St. James Parish, the Festival of Bonfires along the Mississippi River levee attracts thousands each year.
The people who build the wooden structures take the more than century old tradition seriously.
"They protect their bonfires. They don't want anybody to get near them or touch them. It's a very territorial type thing," St. John resident Jessica Sanford said.
Most if not all of the bonfires already constructed between Central Ave. and W. 10th St. area are above the ten foot height requirement. Perrilloux said if those bonfires are not shortened to ten feet, whoever put them up may not be able to light them Christmas Eve.
The Pontchartrain Levee Board sets height and width safety requirements for bonfires. The permits in St. John are issued by the parish.
All of the other areas in both St. John and St. James are not affected by this change and the height limit remains at 15 feet.
Perrilloux also warns weather conditions on Christmas Eve must be suitable for the Festival of Bonfires to occur.