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Skating ribbon fire pits doused amid concerns visitors were too close to flames

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 12, 2018, 10:49 p.m.

Folks gather around a fire pit to warm their hands during the gran opening of the Riverfront Park Skating Ribbon, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in downtown Spokane, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Folks gather around a fire pit to warm their hands during the gran opening of the Riverfront Park Skating Ribbon, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in downtown Spokane, Wash. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Brent Howard took his three children to Spokane’s hottest cold attraction this week, and noticed a distinct lack of heat.

The crowds at the downtown ice ribbon were thin, and the flames in the fire pits had gone out.

“At first, I thought maybe it was just because it was Monday, and there weren’t a lot of people there,” Howard said. “Then I saw the red piece of paper.”

The paper was notice of a stop-use order for the attraction’s rustic fire pits, a decision made to ensure the safety of visitors who were putting their hands too close to the flame.

The cozy, gas-fed campfire features were ordered shut down Jan. 2 by order of the city’s fire marshal. Megan Phillips, the city’s assistant fire marshal, conducted routine inspections during the First Night celebration and noticed several children reaching over circular grates surrounding the pits.

“I saw kids with their forearms hanging over the top,” Phillips said. “One had his arm in up to the armpit, and his hand was basically at the base of the fire.”

Phillips signed an order the next day shutting down the pits, pending changes by park officials. Fianna Dickson, spokeswoman for the department, said the city will order lids for the grates to keep wandering hands from reaching too close to the fire.

“You have the best-laid plans for how something is going to work, but we had people reaching their hands over into that grate and getting too close to the flame,” Dickson said. “The best-laid plans just weren’t working.”

The pits were examined multiple times by fire officials and other inspectors examining the feature during construction, Dickson said.

Phillips said the fire marshal’s office ordered operators to keep the pits on a “low” setting and extinguish the flame if wind speeds reached greater than 7 mph.

The lids should arrive in the next couple of weeks. Costs should be “negligible,” Dickson said, no more than a couple of hundred dollars.

While waiting for the lids to arrive, the park will employ portable propane heaters around the ribbon for skaters to use, Dickson said.

This week, the Spokane Park Board approved expenses of $364,290 tied to removal of debris from the construction of the skating ribbon, which brings the cost to build the feature to nearly $8.1 million, not including design work and other costs. That amount used up all the contingency funding budgeted for the ribbon, and park officials will have to use some of the savings in other areas of the park to finance the final work on the skating attraction.

Park officials have been pleased with the early popularity of the ribbon. Attendance in the first month outpaced ticket receipts all of last year at the now-defunct Ice Palace in the U.S. Pavilion. That building is slated for partial demolition this winter as work progresses to rebuild the pavilion, expected to cost $16.5 million.

The skating ribbon was closed Thursday due to inclement weather. It reopened Friday, in time for a planned weekly “social hour” and a live DJ performance for the weekend.

Howard shrugged off the loss of the fire pits, saying his family was still excited for future trips to Riverfront Park’s newest attraction.

“With it being so front and center, it’s so accessible,” Howard said. “It’s a cool thing for Spokane.”


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