Opportunistic pyromaniacs celebrated Chinese New Year, on the streets of Chinatown Sunday night. Resounded bangs of light, laughter, pervasive metallic-smelling smoke and full-grown adults running to avoid debris from crackers and M-180s were all signs of the celebration.
“The action really starts at midnight,” said a man who referred to himself as “Les,” a Burning Man enthusiast and ex-paramedic. He added that he was there unofficially to ensure the safety of the crowd; a mix of Burning Man fire-lovers and an assortment of intrigued spectators.
Most participants and bystanders flocked to Chinatown for the annual festivities to take advantage of the police lenience due to the Chinese New Year.
Les arrived around 11:15 p.m. in an old British-style camouflaged ambulance that carried medical supplies, ear plugs and all other fail-safe precautionary fire gear.
The constant action and shrapnel-like pieces of fireworks flying into the sidewalk as the evening drew on made it clear Les’s presence was needed.
Spectators standing on the sidewalks became participants as throngs of people moved up and down the blocks around Grant and Washington passing out fireworks.
Chinatown resident LJ Cirilo, a particularly emboldened participant donning an embellished velour jacket with “Queen of Love” written across the back, stumbled into the street to stomp on the lit firecrackers.
“You’re welcome,” said Cirilo in a raspy, intoxicated voice, who received loud cheers and requests from spectators to take pictures with her. “Why don’t know give me a payment?”
The downside to unrestrained fun with fire, as Cirilo was so defiantly demonstrating, was the potential for legal trouble. The playful atmosphere was soured a few times by an overly rambunctious crowd making the event purists uneasy.
“The bigger it gets the more assholes appear,” said firework enthusiast and San Francisco resident Michael Burstein. “The more assholes, the sooner cops come.”
M-180 firecrackers continually set off car alarms, and by midnight several San Francisco Police Department dispatch vehicles had hurriedly passed through, and at least once stopped in the intersection of Grant and Washington in an attempt to discourage the gathered crowd from lighting any more incendiary devices; to no avail.
No problems resulting from the Lunar New Year celebrations were reported, according to San Francisco Police Officer Albie Esparza. At most, squad cars were dispatched due to noise complaints.
Despite the noise, the police officers, and the rain, nothing could dampen the spirits of pyro-enthusiasts who came to Chinatown specifically to watch the miniature explosions. One participant, Jennifer Leech of San Francisco, emphatically compared this celebration to last year.
“It’s a fuck ton bigger,” she said.