Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burning for You: Midtown Bonfire returns for community, for firefighters.

Flames licked the sky during last year’s 1st Annual Midtown Bonfire.

Last October, some drivers along Front Street were startled when they saw a tower of flames shooting up from an empty lot in Midtown Harrisburg.

Reportedly, some worried residents even called in an emergency.

There actually was no reason for concern, as Harrisburg firefighters were already on the scene. The fire, in fact, was in their honor.

The first annual Midtown Bonfire raised more than $1,000 for the Fire Bureau, said organizer H. Ralph Vartan, CEO of the Vartan Group, which owns the empty lot at Front and Verbeke streets.

But, perhaps even more importantly, the event brought together a few hundred people, mostly Harrisburg residents, to share a chat, some good food and a beer.

“It’s really just a fun community event,” Vartan said. “It’s a bonus that we’re able to raise some money for the fire department.”

Vartan now is bringing back the bonfire, which, this year, takes place Sunday, Oct. 22, in the same lot. A $15 donation gets you in and features live music, an a la carte menu grilled up by Chef Ben Beaver of Café 1500, a cash beer tent with Zeroday Brewing Co., s’mores and, of course, the main event—a big bonfire at dusk.

Vartan said he got the idea from being a student at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, which would host a bonfire social each autumn.

“Something about a big bonfire, it connotes fall to me,” he said. “I thought we could have one here as a community-building event.”

Fire Chief Brian Enterline said that he and some of his men will be there, so the blaze will be in good hands. He said he appreciates the fundraiser, which helped purchase washer and dryer units last year. But, like Vartan, he sees the event primarily as a way to bring people together.

“For us, it’s all about the community,” he said.

Vartan hopes for an even bigger tally this year, saying that he wants to raise $4,000 to $5,000 for the Fire Bureau. That money also will be appreciated, Enterline said.

“It helps us offset some small, incidental expenses,” he said. “But we primarily look at it as a way to bring community together.”

The 2nd Annual Midtown Bonfire takes place Sunday, Oct. 22, beginning at 3 p.m., at Front and Verbeke streets, Harrisburg. Admission is $15 in advance, $20 at the event; free for city police and fire. Click here for information and tickets.

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