Our Community saves RiverFest

By Mike McKenna

   It was a nightmare come true, but only for a moment. Thanks to the heroic and selfless people of our community, what could have been a tragedy turned into a triumph.

Photo by Courtney Jelaco

   After nearly a year of planning, the Wood River Land Trust’s 4th Annual RiverFest was finally underway last Wednesday afternoon and it was going great. A huge crowd from Hailey’s famous parade had made its way down to the river to celebrate Independence Day.

   The weather was perfect. The 20 food, craft and non-profit booths were rocking. The Land Trust was handing out free Toni’s Ice Cream to folks of all ages and the headliners from Salt Lake City, Swagger, had just gotten into their groove on stage.

   Everything was perfect … and then it wasn’t.

   Smoke started rising up by the path through Draper Wood River Preserve, between the pavilion and Bow Bridge. Then bursts of flames and calls of “fire.” Luckily, one of Hailey’s finest, Officer Brad Gelskey, and I, the guy in charge of the event, were close by. In the few seconds it took us to get there, however, nearly a dozen folks had literally jumped into the flaming brush and were trying to stomp out the spreading flames.

   The cottonwood duff was everywhere, though, and the flames sprang up too fast for just feet. Calls had already gone out for help and within moments people were being cleared and sirens could be heard. Fire Inspector Christian Ervin and the police officers cleared the area as locals came up to me saying, “I saw who did it.”

   In no time flat, an all-star team of firefighters was on the scene and the suspect was in the back of a squad car. It didn’t take long before I got word the festival would be able to go back on. So I ran all way up to Bullion, but it was too late. As the officers there explained, most of the big crowd had left. It was pretty much over. All that effort and the stress of putting on a big, family-friendly festival on the Fourth of July for nothing—wasted by someone’s careless act. As I walked back to RiverFest my heart cracked a little.

   And then someone came over and offered me a pat on the back, and then another. And then I started getting texts of encouragement and then someone bought me beer. Before I knew it, Chief Auberbach said the show could go back on.

   When I took the stage to announce Up A Creek, only a couple hundred hearty folks were still scattered about. But I was no longer bummed out that RiverFest had been ruined by an act of idiocy.

   The fire had been put out. The perpetrator had been arrested. The bouncy houses had been re-inflated, Sawtooth Brewery’s kegs had re-tapped and the music was flowing again.

   I’ve never been more proud of my community. This place is full of heroes. It turns out that the Land Trust’s slogan is true, we really do protect the places we love around here.


This story originally appeared in the July 11th issue of The Weekly Sun.

Photo by Matthew Steinwurtzel

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