The sun slowly sets over Lake Worth Beach. The fire is hot and crackling. The 74-degree temperature is perfect.
“I didn’t even know this was going on,” says Tannvania Stanford, 23, who just wandered onto the beach. “It’s so nice and relaxing we’ll be here for a few hours.”
The place: Lake Worth Beach Bonfire, the city’s popular event where people roast marshmallows, listen to music and just chill.
As the flames have gone out on public community beach bonfires around Palm Beach County, one community still has them blazing proudly on the sand — Lake Worth.
The city hosts 8 bonfires each season from November through February. The event started in 1997 as a low-key event attended mostly by locals. The season’s last bonfire is scheduled for Friday.
“Now, it has grown in not only size, but popularity,” said Lauren Bennett, Lake Worth’s Assistant Leisure Services Director. “Not only are we the only beach in the county that hosts bonfires, but we’re also one of the few beaches in the state to do so. This event has grown from a small community event to a huge event with guests coming from all over Palm Beach County.”
Bennett said anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people hang at the bonfire, packing s’more kits, playing volleyball and relaxing. She said the city spends about $10,000 on the event each year.
On average, two special event staff members and six ocean rescue lifeguards are working.
But bonfires aren’t always fun.
While Bennett said Lake Worth’s bonfire hasn’t had any incidents, Layne Chesney , a promising St. Lucie County high school softball player, was hurt on New Year’s Eve in a friend’s backyard in suburban Fort Pierce.
A St. Lucie County’s sheriff report said Chesney was sitting at the fire pit when she picked up a gasoline can to pour more fuel on the bonfire. The can exploded, enveloping her in flames.
Chesney suffered third-degree burns on 95 percent of her body. Doctors are reported to be “cautiously optimistic” she will fully recover. Chesney is speaking in full sentences, drinking water and beginning physical therapy, according to her mother.
In Lake Worth, Bennett said, safety is the top concern at the bonfire. She said the bonfire hole is dug with a roped-off berm around it to allow guests to view the fire at a safe distance.
“Our staff is positioned around the bonfire along with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies,” Bennett said.
The biggest challenge the city faces is the unpredictability of Mother Nature. The city has had to reschedule the bonfire three times because of weather concerns.
On a recent bonfire evening, a golden years lady was enjoying her first event and having a blast.
“I came to bring my friend to the beach because she’s from Philadelphia and she wanted a little Florida air and sunshine,” said the 69-year-old Imani, who didn’t want to have her last name printed. “I love it and am going to tell my girlfriend to come.”
Caitlin, Imani’s 23-year-old Philly friend, said the bonfire is a little different than what she normally does.
“I sit at home,” she says, laughing.
Three young kids are playing volleyball. A guy is holding his son’s tiny hand. A young, kissing couple cuddles on a chair.
Samdor Imre, 75, wearing a New York Mets cap, has lived in Lake Worth for 6 years and has been here about 7 times. “People get together in peace and listen to music,” he said. “I love it here.”
Martin Thiebeault, who lives in Canada with his wife, Joan, said he read about the bonfire in The Palm Beach Post. “We have a lot of them in Canada, so we wanted to see it,” Thiebeault, 63, said.
And how was it?
“The fire looks great,” he says. “I’m a performer, too, but I want to listen tonight.”
Rogue Theory is the band jamming on this night. That’s why Patti Marciant, 53, is here.
“I love Rogue Theory, are you kidding me,” she says. “There’s an amazing electric violinist and the whole band is just amazing. I’ve seen them about 20 plus times.”
Doug Yoakum, Lake Worth’s aquatics manager, is the guy managing the bonfire.
“It’s hot,” he says, grinning. “But it’s a good feeling and it gives people something different to do on a Friday night.”
Matthew Botts, chief of Lake Worth’s ocean rescue, is working the event, making sure everyone is safe. “I used to come here as a kid,” says Botts, 32. “Now I get to run it. It’s nice.”