Anita Scott demonstrates how she functions as a float “spotter” while seated in the front of the South Pasadena float, “Three Little Birds.” An adjacent float caught fire and the float’s start time was long delayed. Thinking the parade over, spectators began exiting the route in droves. Some supporters remained, so she began waving. Those who stayed cheered the float on enthusiastically. Photo by Henk Friezer

A float fire and its aftermath at the Jan. 1 Pasadena Tournament of Roses (TOR) Parade prevented South Pasadena’s “Three Little Birds” float and other entries from being a real part of the parade and its media coverage. The TOR Association is investigating the incident.

The fire began as the last entries in the parade were moving north on Orange Grove Boulevard. They were in formation, waiting to take their places in the lineup. Suddenly, onsite viewers said smoke started billowing from the Chinese American Friendship Foundation’s float. This was number 83 of 88 entries.

So Pas Mayor Marina Khubesrian, who was in the stands on Orange Grove, reported the sight  on Instagram. “I watched with unfolding suspense as the giant float in front of [South Pasadena’s float] began to roll backwards, emit smoke, careen toward the floats, horses and onlookers, then finally stop and evacuate its riders,” she wrote.

The fire was quickly extinguished by float personnel. According to news reports at the time, the fire had been caused by leaking transmission fluid hitting a hot exhaust pipe underneath the float.

Damage-control efforts at the float and attempts to tow it created a lengthy delay. With television coverage scheduled to end at 10 a.m., the TOR moved the Grand Finale, sponsored by Wells Fargo, up in the lineup. A stagecoach and a Rose Bowl float featuring pop-artist singer Anne-Marie pulled in front of the South Pasadena float. Her performance signaled the end of the parade on television. This was in spite of several entries waiting to join the parade.

The gap of more than 30 minutes confused the crowds, said Anita Scott, the South Pasadena float’s “spotter.” She was seated in the front of the float to warn driver James Jontz of any problems. “The spectators thought the parade was over,” she said, while volunteering at the float tear-down day Jan. 5 at the War Memorial Building. “This happened before we even made the turn onto Orange Grove.” The final entries lagged far behind the earlier ones.

In addition, South Pasadena’s float, number 85 in the lineup, and others were not televised in the live coverage.

Photographs and videos of South Pasadena’s float on the parade route are available at www.facebook.com/SPRoseFloat/ Photo by Joseph Ruiz

The TOR Association provided an update on its investigation. “We are working with our technical inspectors, float construction, float operations and float builder teams to determine what led to the incident,” it said in an official statement emailed to this reporter Jan. 3 by communications spokesperson Candy Carlson.

The Association has procedures in place to address unexpected mechanical incidents, the statement said.

“Until the Chinese American Heritage Foundation Float has been fully inspected and an incident report has been completed, we are unable to determine what fines can or will be assessed.” Fines can range from $1,000 to $80,000, according to TOR officials and builders as reported in the Pasadena Star News Jan. 3.

Fiesta Parade Floats of Irwindale built the float that caught fire. The company received awards for nine floats in this year’s parade. This included the Sweepstakes Trophy for the UPS Store entry.

“The incident is under review, and we are working with the Tournament,” Fiesta spokesperson Will Ostedt said by phone Jan. 4. “We clearly don’t plan for this, but it happens. That’s why the Tournament conducts fire drills so people know what to do,” he said.

Ostedt noted that South Pasadena “had a beautiful float this year.” When he first saw it, he said he did a double take. It didn’t look like a self-built float, he said. Referring to the float’s receiving the TOR’s Mayor Award, he said, “South Pasadena certainly deserved the award.”

South Pasadena’s float committee said it is too early to comment on the incident.

“We have just started to contact TOR and will discuss the parade with them soon,” said Courtney Dunlap, South Pasadena Tournament of Roses president, in a Jan. 4 email.

She declined to comment further. “Instead,” she said, “we would like to express how extremely proud we are of our design, our construction team, our decoration team, all of our volunteers and all of the donations we received this year in order to make our float the award winner that it was.”

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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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