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Yacht club hot after Chicago Fire Festival damages boats, canopy

The conflagration at Northerly Island may have finally been the success organizers of the Great Chicago Fire Festival had envisioned, but some boaters at Burnham Harbor found themselves bombarded by ashes and embers carried by the wind.

“It was like a meteorite shower,” Chris Edmonds, vice admiral of the Burnham Park Yacht Club, said Monday. “Red sparks were coming down like a snowstorm.”

Embers burned holes through the private club’s new vinyl canopy that covers its outdoor patio, causing an estimated $6,000 damage.

The club was hosting an event Saturday night for new members, some of whom were dining outside when the chaos began, Edmonds said.

“People were out there with their kids,” he said.

Embers also fell on boats, Edmonds said. One burned a hole through a sail that was lying on a boat’s deck. Canvas covers of other boats were also damaged.

An ember landed on canvas covering Paulette Horne’s dinghy. Onlookers, thankfully, were able to put it out, she said.

“I know a lot goes into planning an event like that. But fire next to a harbor? I don’t know how well that was thought out. It was pretty darn scary. That’s all I can tell you,” Horne, 50, said Monday.

“I plan to reach out to organizers of the event and their insurance provider,” said Edmonds, an attorney.

The Great Chicago Fire Festival burned a structure on Northerly Island Saturday night. The performance was hailed as a success after a dud last year in which the fire failed to fully ignite.

Redmoon Theater, which stages the event, promotes it as a “spectacular urban ritual that celebrates Chicago’s people, history, and unique neighborhood culture.”

Monday afternoon, the theater issued this statement:

“Our first priority was always the safety of our festival attendees, staff, artists, performers and the surrounding area. We worked directly with the Chicago Fire Department to ensure we exceeded all safety requirements associated with the burning of the GRIT House and we regret any inconvenience that may have occurred at the Yacht Club or their members.

“Individuals affected as a result of Saturday’s event, should contact Westrec Marinas who will in turn coordinate with Redmoon to resolve any issues. We will work with Westrec Marinas to ensure any issues caused by Saturday’s event are resolved.”

The Chicago Fire Department did not return calls seeking comment.

“Whoever organized this obviously doesn’t know anything about boating or wind conditions,” Edmonds said. When firefighters arrived to check the roof of the yacht club for damage “they were absolutely livid,” Edmonds said.

“We thought the fire would be held way out on Northerly Island, not so close,” Edmonds said.

Chris Moskos said his boat, named Sogno del Pirata, was sprinkled with ash from the fire.

“My boat was a mess,” he said. “But ash from the fire was on a whole bunch of boats in the area.”

Edmonds said some boaters saw the fire in the distance and mistakenly feared the yacht club was ablaze.

The yacht club has also experienced problems with concert-goers flooding out of the nearby venue at Northerly Island during foul weather and trampling yacht club grounds and trying to get inside the club, Edmonds said.

“We’ve become the red-headed stepchild out there on Northerly Island,” he said.

Paulette Horne was on a dock in Burnham Harber when she took these photos of the Great Chicago Fire Festival on Northerly Island. Yacht Club members say embers from the flames damaged some boats and a canopy at the club.

A view of the Great Chicago Fire Festival on Northerly Island from a dock in Burnham Harbor. Yacht Club members say embers from the flames damaged some boats and a canopy at the club. | Photo courtesy of Paulette Horne