BETHEL — Light snow swirled around in a flesh-biting wind Saturday night while a large crowd of people of all ages waited for WinterFest's snow volcano to belch fire.
It was a long wait once the snow volcano's core of trees stacked on end was ignited. Heavy white smoke roiled tornado-like out the summit for 45 minutes before fire and embers emerged from the summit.
By then, many families had left or retreated to the warmth of parked and idling vehicles.
The spectacle was engineered by Jim Sysko of Newry, who gathered a collection of trees ranging from 40 to 50 feet tall from his property. They were tied together and raised by a Bancroft crane operator on Dec. 14.
Snow was then pushed into place around the stack to form the volcano.
It was the centerpiece for Bethel's annual winter festival, which started on Feb. 9 and will continue to Saturday, Feb. 23.
Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Snowcano event "went really well."
"We had a big crowd, even bigger than last year," she said. "The flames took a while to come out the top — almost 40 minutes from the time they lit it from below — but the smoke coming out the top was reminiscent of a volcano before it 'blows!'"
Traffic on Parkway between Routes 2 and 26 was heavy and congested from people parking on the sides of both shoulders.
"Oh, it's just smoke, let's go," one small child told a parent as they walked down Parkway to their vehicle.
At 7:12 p.m., flames began shooting out the top and a loud cheer went up from the crowd ringing the nearly 100-foot diameter "snowcano."
"Yay!" they cried out, some applauding; others honking car horns.
At 7:17 p.m., flames shot up the trunk of the softwood at the top of the stack. A few minutes later, its needles exploded in loud crackling noises.
By 7:33 p.m., few people remained.