Fire festivals are becoming increasingly popular in the South as a way to communicate the importance of prescribed fire. These festivals typically target the general public, specifically families with children. Fire festivals include elements common to many festivals and outdoor events such as interactive exhibits, informational booths, fire trucks and equipment, food trucks, and live music. They may also include a live prescribed burn demonstration and demonstrations of prescribed burning equipment such as driptorches, backpack sprayers, engines, and even helicopters. Demonstrations of equipment may also be a part of the interactive exhibits.
When planning your fire festival the following are topics you should address in your planning process. You may also want to consult section three of the Wildland Fire Programming Guide.
Plan (Way) Ahead. Organizing a fire festival requires significant planning. Past organizers recommend that planning begin at least six months to one year in advance of the event.
Find the Right Partners. Consider both the organizations and individuals within those organizations who will be most helpful. Choose individuals within organizations that have enough influence to provide resources, but who also have enough time to devote to planning. Remember that organizations can attend or exhibit at the festival without participating as organizers.
Know the Laws and Regulations. Work with local agencies and officials to comply with all required regulations and laws, including securing all necessary permits and permissions.
Focus on the Message. It can be easy to lose sight of the purpose of a fire festival amid the music, food, and fun. Work with partners to craft a cohesive message (for example: prescribed fire is an important part of maintaining habitat for wildlife and reducing wildlife risk for humans) and structure the festival to highlight that message. Consider how exhibits and activities will go together, and try to create an experience for visitors that is fun and entertaining while also truly highlighting the fire message. Using a scavenger hunt activity can be an excellent way to do this.
Evaluate. Coordinate with volunteers or organizers to collect evaluation data. Incentivize attendees to participate in completing a survey through give-aways or other mechanisms. Keep surveys short and only collect relevant information. Discuss evaluation data with planning partners after the festival and make appropriate changes to future festivals or events.
Learn From Other Organizers. The best way to understand how to successfully organize a fire festival is to talk to those who have already done so. If possible, attend a fire festival and speak with those who have planned it. The list below includes currently running fire festivals in the South that may be a resource for you. Some festivals are held every year, while others are held biennially.
- Fire in the Pines Festival, Wilmington, NC
- Flatwoods Fire and Nature Festival, Gainesville, FL
- Party for the Pine, Southern Pines, NC
- Red Hills Fire Festival, Tallahassee, FL
- Sarasota County Fire Fest, Venice, FL
- Seewee Fire Fest, Awendaw, SC
If you are unable to talk to a past fire festival organizer, connect with a member of your local community who has organized a festival of any kind, as there is likely to be significant overlap in planning considerations. The Southern Fire Exchange also hosted a Lessons Learned from Hosting Fire Festivals webinar in 2018, featuring the lead organizers of the Fire in the Pines Festival in Wilmington, NC and the Red Hills Fire Festival in Tallahassee, FL. The recording is hosted on SFE’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/SouthernFireExch, and is a valuable resource.
Consider Starting Small. An outreach workshop or burn demonstration in a priority area can be a way to begin building relationships with partners and gauging public interest. Building with these types of smaller-scale outreach events can provide an opportunity to better understand what location, time of year, organizing partners, and other details will work best before planning an entire festival.
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