Peter Yarborough, a regular at a Fremont campfire known as the "fire circle," admits that his fellow burners occasionally torched items like batteries, plywood, and a couch before the city shut the pit down. Still, Yarborough says the fires had a calming effect on drum-circle participants, Fremont residents, bar-goers, and the homeless they attracted, likening the flames to a community beacon. "One of the nice things about it is that the primitive setting was conducive to spiritual events," he says.
Problem is that "primitive setting," sandwiched between the Burke-Gilman Trail and the Ship Canal, is just a few blocks west of bustling downtown Fremont.
The fire circle was designed by Fremont Troll architect Steven Badanes and constructed by University of Washington students in 1994. Prompted by the fire department, which had to answer 17 fire-pit-related calls in 2006 alone, the city bulldozed the berms that surround the circle and banned burning there this past summer.
Seattle has other regulated urban burn areas, but they're in larger, more secluded parks like Carkeek and West Seattle's Camp Long, or on beaches like Alki and Golden Gardens. Yet the Fremont flames have not gone out entirely, as the Parks Department seems open to finding a way to bring the fires back. "It's legal as long as it meets the fire code," says Royal Alley-Barnes, manager of parks resources for the north region. (Seattle fire code requires recreational fires to be contained in an outdoor fireplace, grill, or barbecue pit, and be no more than 3 feet wide and 2 feet high.)
The natives, however, aren't too keen on the revival. "I think it's crazy," says 21-year Fremont resident Nichols Gleason. "If we're such a green city, why are we encouraging outdoor burning when it's been proven it can't be kept within its limits?"
Parks held a meeting earlier this month to brainstorm ideas for moving forward, but Gleason says the discussion started from the premise of "the fire pit will be going back—tell us how to do it."
"We were like, 'Whoa! We like it gone,'" Gleason explains, adding that she's kicking around the idea of putting together a petition to prevent the pit's resurrection.
One idea suggested at the meeting was to have a community member periodically monitor the fires. To this, Fremont developer Suzie Burke offers a one-word response: "Why?" Burke says there's no rational reason for a Fremont campfire, adding that in addition to the obvious hazards, she's concerned about the "scallywags" who have been tearing things off nearby industrial buildings and burning them.
"If we're going to put something there," adds Burke, "let's put art."