Bob Kosineski permanently borrowed 150 hardwood pallets from his business to build an inferno of record proportions.
“Give it 15 minutes,” he said, stuffing crumpled newspaper between the slats. “You won’t be able to stand here.”
He and many other Kosineskis gathered at the family cabin on the shores of the Great Sacandaga Lake on Sunday night, just as they have for the last 23 years. On the Sunday night before Labor Day they build a fire, and every year it gets bigger. It’s part of an unofficial, but religiously maintained lake tradition. Every camper, resident and lakeshore business owner adds a blaze to what’s known as the Ring of Fire.
“There have to be thousands of these fires,” Bob said.
Ever since 1988, when longtime Mayfield resident Agnes Gilbert thought it would be cool for the whole lake to light bonfires at once and roped her daughter into the promotion effort, the lake has ended each summer season ringed in fire.
The Kosineskis pitched in that first year because they had an old outhouse to get rid of. Since then, the blazes have grown.
“This should be 30 feet tall,” Bob said. “It’s sort of a competition between Lanzi’s and us.”
Just as the pallets caught, a 20-foot mound of brush, bits of dock, picnic tables and fence raged to life on the beach of Lanzi’s restaurant a few hundred yards up the shore — and another one beyond. By 8:30 there was more fire than darkness.
Lake water shifted to orange with reflected sparks and small breezes only brought the smell of more bonfires. Six miles across the lake, fires flickered as thumbnail-sized dots. Figuring in distance, that’s a big fire.
“Ours will be bigger,” Bob said, nodding toward Lanzi’s.
Fire and water
But there’s more to the Ring of Fire than competition.
Standing well back from the towering Lanzi’s bonfire, Heidi and Gareth Chisholm stood awash in the glow and heat. They’re both from South Africa, living in Brooklyn and vacationing for the first time in the Adirondacks.
“We don’t have anything like lakes in South Africa,” Heidi said. “I guess we have reservoirs, but they’re brown. You fall in love with lakes.”
The couple stayed in lake country with their two kids for a month this summer.
“We go home tomorrow,” she said.
She had a wistful air about her. She’ll miss the lakes.
On another section of beach, dozens of hands supported the purple tissue-paper sides of a floating lantern as Mike Breen used a Bic to light the thing.
“Don’t let it get the sides,” he said as a breath of wind crinkled the paper. “You have to let it go.”
Amy Bieliski, who contributed two of many careful hands, finally pushed the fragile lit globe into the air. It rushed low out over the water to shouts of joy.
“That’s for all the family members who aren’t with us.” said Vicki Coluccio. “We’re seeing them off.”
It rose up and away over the trees, for what Breen claimed would be an eight-mile trip.
Beer and blazes
Down the shore, south of Lanzi’s and the Kosineski mound of pallets, Jeremy McClary enjoyed a beer and watched his blaze and scores of others reflected off the lake.
“I’m embarrassed,” he said. “Mine is a small fire.”
He didn’t actually seem all that bothered.
“Look around you,” he said, motioning to the orange night sky and his young nephew sprinting around in ankle-deep sand, “This is life. This is a permanent grin.”
The fire was on his mother’s land. It’s a slot of beach with a new house on it, but McClary remembers 20-odd years ago, when it was just an old camp owned by his grandfather.
“I remember carrying two-by-fours to the fire and feeling like I was some kind of big man,” he said. “This Ring of Fire is just how we see out the summer. It makes the end easier.”