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Norwich group tests prototype for planned ‘Harbor Fire’ in fall 2019

October 2, 2018

Norwich — A small fire burned in a cauldron set afloat for about 40 minutes in Norwich Harbor on Tuesday before a water hose from the Norwich Fire Department’s extinguished the flame, and onlookers at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park took mental notes of the activity.

Tuesday was the test of the first prototype floating, wood-burning cauldron built by two members of Norwich Rotary Community Corps, which hopes to host a “Harbor Fire” event in fall of 2019. The event, possibly tied to the annual Norwich Rotary Celebrate Diversity Day, would feature 10 burning cauldrons anchored in the harbor while attendees enjoy live music, dancing and food at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.

“It’s such a beautiful area,” Community Corps member and event organizer Joanne LeFrancois said. “We need to showcase it.”

The project won’t be easy. Norwich Harbor waters appeared calm Tuesday but Robert Groner, who volunteered his boat to tow the test cauldron, said the recent heavy rains made for swift currents from the Yantic and Shetucket rivers rushing into the harbor. Tidal influences coming up the Thames River also can be tricky.

Robert LeFrancois and Zechariah Stover designed and built Tuesday’s prototype. Four empty metal barrels arranged in a square form the flotation base for the square metal cauldron attached atop the four barrels. The group tested a double-anchor system Tuesday to hold the cauldron in place.

The group had consulted with Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato, who also was serving as fire marshal, before he retired in early September.

Fire Marshal Jim Roberts was among the observers standing on the dock, watching as the fire water cannon quickly extinguished the flame. Roberts recommended the group meet with members of the Thayer family, owners of Thayer’s Marine at the Yantic River mouth in the harbor and experts on harbor conditions.

“Today was a dry run,” Roberts said. “You know the conditions (for the event) will be different than today.”

Roberts said he will consult with state officials and the U.S. Coast Guard on what approvals the group would need for the event. The harbor’s navigation channel needs to be considered, along with currents and tides. He told Community Corps members they would have to do a test run the day of the event prior to lighting the cauldrons to test water conditions.

“We’ll be back here doing more testing,” Stover said.

Stover and volunteers Steve Starke and Phillip Graham then wrestled to load the cauldron onto Joanne LeFrancois’ pickup truck at the Brown Park boat launch.

Joanne LeFrancois said the group doesn’t yet know the total cost of the project, with 10 cauldrons planned, construction materials, storage and transportation needed. Collins & Jewell Co. metal manufacturing plant in Bozrah will build the 10 units.

The group plans fundraisers in the coming months and has started accepting donations for Harbor Fire 2019.

Donation checks can be made out to Norwich Rotary Community Corps with a notation for “Harbor Fire” and sent to Norwich Rotary Community Corps, c/o 25 East Baltic St., Norwich CT 06360.

c.bessette@theday.com

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