Christmas Bonfires – Construction
ambience: Bonfires on the Levee
This week, in preparation for one of New Orleans’ oldest traditions, families are joining forces to construct towering pyramids made of wood and wire. They’ll spend days building their wooden towers, and then — they’ll burn them down. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Billy Bourgeois is a bonfire builder from Paulina, Louisiana.
My daddy started building bonfires and his daddy started building bonfires and I was building it since I been five years old. Now I’m starting to get my two young kids into it. One’s seven and one’s nine. We starting to build bonfires.
Bonfires are usually built from willow trees- a light and inexpensive wood that’s plentiful in this area. But, for maximum noise, most builders spike their bonfires with firecrackers and hollow reeds, which explode in the heat.
We put 32,000 fireworks in our bonfire with five truck rolls of cane reed. The cane reed is like a bamboo: when it builds up pressure, it pops like a firework. That’s the popping you’re hearing now. It’s still popping from the cane reed.
Before the advent of insurance, these New Orleans bonfires were built as high as 60 feet. These days, builders are limited to 20 foot pyres. But even putting up a 20 foot structure still takes the work of an entire family.
This is a family thing. My brothers, my cousins, we all help. We can build it in three or four days, we can build a bonfire- with a lot of work. We bring our family up here and light a fire and barbecue and last night we stayed until two in the morning. Just having our own Christmas eve party.
Please visit out website at pulseplanet.com Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.