Smoke begins to spew from the lower portion of the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float. A small fire broke out as the float entered the Tournament of Roses Parade Jan. 1 on Orange Grove Boulevard. Smoke billowing from a smokestack at the top of the float was part of the structure’s design. Courtesy The Rose Examiner

A small fire that erupted on a float during the Jan. 1 Pasadena Tournament of Roses (TOR) Parade created a major disruption stalling several floats trailing behind and resulting in the loss of live national television coverage.

Parade entries behind it at the start line along Orange Grove Boulevard, including South Pasadena’s, were significantly delayed.

Now, almost four-months later, the TOR has not released a report on the incident.

The Chinese American Heritage Foundation sponsored the float that caught fire. Number 83 of 88 entries, it was among the last to join the parade. South Pasadena’s float was number 85.

As the Heritage Foundation float moved north toward Colorado Boulevard, smoke began to spew from the lower part of the structure. Smoke also billowed from a smokestack on the float, but that was part of the design. 

The fire was extinguished and riders evacuated. The Wells Fargo Grand Finale with singer Anne-Marie was moved up in the procession, which signaled the end of television coverage. The Heritage Foundation float was then towed the rest of the way.

The remaining entries joined the parade, but they lagged far behind. As a result, many spectators, seeing no more floats in the distance, assumed the parade was over.

They began exiting the viewing stands and sidewalks en masse. The exodus started at the beginning of the parade and continued to the end of its 5.5-mile route.

In addition, the South Pasadena float, which won the Mayor Award, was not seen on live television coverage.

A TOR Association committee planned to complete a final report on the incident by the end of April, according to a March 6 email from Candy Carlson. She is the TOR’s communications senior manager.

As of early April, however, she said that is no longer the case. “The specific date hasn’t been determined,” she said by email April 9.

In response to a request for information by the South Pasadena Review, spokesperson Carlson released a statement April 9 from the TOR by email.

“The Pasadena Tournament of Roses’ review process is ongoing regarding the incident with the Chinese American Heritage Foundation Float,” the statement began.

“We are working with our technical inspectors, float construction, float operations and float builder teams to determine what led to the incident and plan to share the final report when it is complete,” it continued.  

It is not known whether Fiesta Parade Floats, the company that built the Heritage Foundation float, will be assessed a fee for the mishap. Fees can range between $1,000 to $80,000 or more, according to local news reports in January.

The statement ended with a reference to the city float.

“The Pasadena Tournament of Roses has been in communication with the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association,” it read, “and will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Courtney Dunlap, South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee president, announced during the group’s April 2 monthly meeting that TOR staff had communicated with her.

“I was contacted by the Tournament,” she said, “and they want to talk to us about last year.”

She was referring, of course, to the fire’s consequences for South Pasadena’s float. Dunlap said the Pasadena TOR’s goal is to meet in April or May.

“I expect in the next couple of weeks to set up a meeting,” she told the committee. She said she would share the results with them at the next monthly meeting or by email. 

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Sally Kilby, a South Pasadena resident, was City Clerk 2000-2013. Prior to that, she worked in health care as a nurse, medical librarian, advertising copywriter, writer and journal editor. She is involved in various community organizations. Her two grown children attended South Pasadena schools and work at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

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