Frisco celebrates 10th anniversary of Spontaneous Combustion community bonfire |

Frisco celebrates 10th anniversary of Spontaneous Combustion community bonfire

Frisco's first-ever Spontaneous Combustion bonfire went up in flames in 2005. "I like fire," M. John Fayhee said at the time. "It is nice to see folks come out and stand around a fire and drink a beer. There has also been a ton of kids here sledding and dog sledding, and everyone seems to be having some good fun."
Brad Odekirk / Daily file photo |

Gold Rush schedule

Saturday, Feb. 7

8 a.m. to noon — Race registration and bib pick-up at the Frisco Day Lodge, 621 Recreation Way (base of the Frisco tubing hill)

9 a.m. — 30K skate ski start

9:30 a.m. — 10K open (classic and skate ski) start

10 a.m. to noon — Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) ski races

Noon — 3K fun ski (classic and skate ski) start

6-8 p.m. — Spontaneous Combustion community bonfire, Frisco Bay Marina dirt lot, corner of Marina Road and state Highway 9/Summit Boulevard

8 p.m. — Fireworks display visible throughout downtown Frisco

M. John Fayhee said he couldn’t really remember the exact instant the light bulb went on over his head, but it likely came during happy hour at Toscato in Frisco. There he sat a decade ago, mulling the 20 years he’d spent in Summit County, watching events become more and more focused on tourists and less and less on the original debauchery that brought him and all the other ski bums to live in this mountain playground.

“The term ‘family friendly’ started appearing in Summit County 15 or 20 years ago, and it did not resonate with the hedonistic attitude of Summit County,” said Fayhee, who now lives in Silver City, New Mexico.

At that time, the town of Breckenridge had gotten nervous and shut down the community bonfire associated with Ullr Fest, due to any number of rumored reasons — “maybe some drunk guy passed out and his face froze to the ground,” Fayhee speculated. Whatever the reason might have been, thinking about Ullr Fest got Fayhee thinking about bonfires, and things began to coagulate in his brain.

“I found myself placing a call to Tom Wickman,” he said, referring to the Frisco police chief. “I remember calling up Tom and said, ‘what would you think about organizing a big fire in Frisco?’ There was this big, 30-second pause on the phone. I could imagine Tom’s look on his face, the mental gears turning.

“And once Tom said, ‘I don’t see any ordinances against it.’ I called up Jeff Berino, and I didn’t have the sentence out of my mouth before Jeff said, ‘hell yeah!’”


With the lukewarm buy-in from Wickman and the enthusiastic support of Berino, deputy chief of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, it was time to take his idea to the town of Frisco and lay it all out on the table.

“The town was really worried that this would turn into a drunken, Bacchanal riot,” Fayhee said. “They were concerned about what the event was going to turn into. I spent about six months working on the first one. To kind of assuage the town’s concerns, I worked to really make the thing, ironically enough, ‘family friendly.’”

With a bit of help from his staff at the Mountain Gazette, Fayhee wrangled a teepee from Colorado Yurts and some nature displays from the Keystone Science School. A dogsledding company from Tennessee Pass set up inexpensive sled rides for the kids, and Wilderness Sports donated a few sliding saucers to take them careening down the mammoth snow bank near the fire site at the Frisco Bay Marina.

Next came the combustibles. Fayhee convinced the powers that be to make the bonfire area the official drop-off site for Christmas trees for the entire county, and he requested damaged, cast-off pallets from the print shop that delivered the Mountain Gazette.

“They said, how many would you want? And I said, toss in as many as you can,” Fayhee said. “They brought up a semi truck, an 18-wheeler. I figured there was going to be maybe 20 pallets that I could toss of by myself. They had the back of this damn semi truck filled with pallets.”

With about 200 pallets and a mountain of Christmas trees, there was sufficient fuel to ignite Fayhee’s idea, the inaugural Spontaneous Combustion bonfire.


For that first fire, Fayhee wasn’t sure if there would be 10 people or 1,000 who would show up, but even if it was just him with a couple of gallons of kerosene and a match, he made sure it was going to be the biggest, baddest fire Frisco had ever seen.

“It essentially went off without a hitch,” he said of the first go-around. “There were a couple of instances that people were trying to bring their own beer. One guy who was really, really drunk and rode his sled down and took out a bunch of kids, but by and large, it went really, really smooth.”

In subsequent years, the man with the spark in his eye relinquished the Spontaneous Combustion reins to the town, which added things, such as the Frisco Gold Rush Nordic races and Berino’s pyrotechnics, and subtracted things, like allowing people to throw their own Christmas trees on the fire, but 10 years later, Fayhee’s legacy still lives on.

“If it wasn’t for John Fayhee, this wouldn’t be going on,” he said. “Is that immature or childish? Maybe. There’s another part where it’s just pleasant for me to look around and see the looks on people’s faces when they’re standing around the fire with their kids.”

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