Cause of TOR Float Fire Is Revealed

A fire erupted on the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float in the 2019 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, causing repercussions for the South Pasadena float, which was traveling behind. Courtesy of The Rose Examiner

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has released its report on a fire that occurred during the Jan. 1 Tournament of Roses Parade, delaying the parade and causing South Pasadena’s float – which followed the float that caught fire – to miss out on a national TV showcase.

Just as disappointing to So Pas organizers was the fact that many parade spectators did not get to see the city’s float, either.

The small fire erupted on the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, number 83 in the lineup. The entry was ahead of the city’s. South Pasadena’s “Three Little Birds” float was number 85 of 88 entries.

The most probable cause of the fire was the accidental discharge of transmission fluid onto the float’s exhaust pipe, Candy Carlson, senior manager of communications of the TOR, said in the report.

This was the same explanation that Tim Estes of Fiesta Parade Floats, the float’s builder, had given immediately following the incident.

The TOR report also said that the fire spread from the engine area to the driver’s compartment.

In addition, the report said the lengthy delay was caused by the need to call two tow trucks. This occurred because the driver was not allowed to re-enter the fire-damaged driver compartment. Another truck was needed that was equipped to tow the then-driverless float. Reports at the time had attributed the problem to a broken tow bar on the first tow truck.

The situation created a sequence of problems for South Pasadena’s self-built float, which was not damaged but nonetheless missed out on a national TV spotlight.

The episode unfolded as the city’s float moved north on Orange Grove Avenue in line with other entries, just before making the turn onto Colorado Boulevard.

The fire was extinguished, and no one was hurt. However, the time required to address the problem created a lengthy delay. Some reports at the time noted it was at least 30 minutes.

By the time the last entries joined the parade, many spectators thought the event was over. They began exiting the stands and sidewalks and crowding onto the parade route. The last entries had to navigate their way through the crowds.

Courtney Dunlap, South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee (SPTOR) president, said by email July 12 that she had previously received these findings from the TOR. She also said she had shared them at SPTOR monthly meetings.

To prevent future problems, the report said the TOR “is working with both professional float building companies and self-built float organizations to implement added procedures and requirements to enhance safety.” 

Dunlap said the TOR’s new requirements were announced at recent meetings of the SPTOR. They were also reported in the June 21 issue of this newspaper.

“This will be a work in progress for the year,” she said.

SPTOR has been partly compensated for its losses. The committee was awarded $5,000, and the TOR waived its $2,500 entry fee for 2020, according to an announcement Dunlap made in June.

Half of the costs of the now-required fire-suppression equipment may also be covered, according to a member of the city’s float construction crew at the June 4 SPTOR meeting. That, Dunlap said July 16 by email, has not been confirmed.

The TOR report did not mention whether Fiesta Parade Floats, the builder of the float that caught fire, was assessed a fine. These can range between $1,000 and $80,000, according to past news reports.

Each year after the parade, said TOR spokesperson Carlson by email July 11, the association “meets with the builders to review what went well and [discuss] ways to improve and enhance the parade.”

“Fines are discussed with each individual builder,” she said, “and have not been made public in the past.”

Representatives of Fiesta Parade Floats have not disclosed whether they received a fine.

“Unfortunately,” said the company’s media contact, Will Ostedt, by email July 11, “Fiesta cannot speak to the details as the TOR has the jurisdiction over the investigation. I am sorry, but we have to refer any and all questions to the TOR.”

SPTOR members are now looking to the future.

“We are very excited about our 2020 float entry,” Dunlap said by email, “and we would like to continue to show our excitement moving forward.”