Friday, October 17, 2014

Pumpkin Festival Catastrophe

“Three … two … one … shut off the lights!” Mayor Larry Kimball yelled into the microphone. The lights throughout the downtown area turned off and the area was filled with the soft glow of candle light from the more than 30,000 lit carved pumpkins that lined the streets.

A chorus of ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ rose up from the crowd. It was a spectacular sight seeing so many pumpkins lit at the same time. Over at the food court, a weary festival-goer ordered a salty pretzel. 

“Would you like that heated?” the cashier asked.

“Sure, just enough to make it soft again.”

The cashier picked the largest pretzel and placed it on a paper plate then put it in the microwave. It ran for twelve seconds then suddenly stopped. “That’s weird,” the cashier said. “Is that going to be good enough for you?”

“Yeah, I just want to get out of here before everyone else.”

While they talked, a spark from the extension cord lit some old leaves on fire. The fire quickly spread from one leaf pile to the next.

“Holy shit! Fire! Call 9-1-1!” someone screamed. The blaze was headed straight for Main Street. Food vendors and the gift tent tried to douse the fire with whatever water they had but it was fully engaged.

The crowd could smell the fire before they saw it. Everyone started to panic and run away from the fire. Chaos filled the air and they trampled over each other in their attempt to escape, knocking pumpkins over and igniting all the dried leaves and hay that lined the main street.

It took several hours and responders from six towns to get the fire put out that had spread for up to three blocks on either side of Main Street then assess the damage. More than 1,500 people of all ages and a dozen pets had perished in the attempt to escape and thousands more were treated at a makeshift emergency room or transported to nearby hospitals. The fire caused millions of dollars of damage to the businesses. News outlets shared the grisly story, dubbing it Nightmare on Main Street.

That was the last year they held the pumpkin festival. On the one year anniversary of the fire, the town placed a bronze carved pumpkin in the center of town honoring those who died in the fire and the end of more than 20 years of pumpkin festivals. The plaque read, “Let it Shine – Your spirit, love and devotion will forever shine in our hearts and thoughts.”

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