Burnt out: Pinal farmer fed up with lanterns

Lantern festival litter

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Social media was the last place Rose Robertson wanted to air her frustrations with a nearby festival, but she said Monday at her farm in Pinal County that it seemed like the only place anyone would listen.

She said she learned about the lantern festival at the Pinal Fairgrounds through friends a few days before the Saturday, Nov. 2 event. Robertson said no one from the county, the fairgrounds or the event itself contacted her.

When she stopped by her property, which stretches over 1,000 acres, Robertson was stunned to see lanterns strewn across her cotton fields, caught in her palm trees, penned in with her livestock and submerged in her drainage.

She snapped pictures of the lanterns and some of the cleanup effort that day. Her initial Facebook post has been shared more than 2,000 times.

Spencer Humiston, with Night Lights, said 99.9 percent of the lanterns were cleaned up by Sunday evening. He said the first group showed up in the morning, then a second group made another pass between 2:00 p.m and 6:00 p.m.

There's more to the matter than litter, according to Robertson.

"They're walking through cotton fields that have not been picked," she said. "They're knocking cotton on the ground. Some of them were wearing sandals. If someone steps on something, when is it the fairgrounds responsibility or the lantern festival or when are they going to go after me?"

The cleanup crew consisted of roughly half a dozen staff members and local high school students volunteering their time as a school fundraiser, according to Humiston. He worked for the company that's run the festival in years past, but this year it was Night Lights in charge. Humiston said they've built relationships in the community for the last five years.

The event’s contract with Central Arizona Fair Association stipulates that organizers notify neighborhoods around the fairgrounds with flyers about the event and the clean up, according to CAFA Executive Director Karen Searle. Robertson’s farm, outside of the immediate proximity of the fairgrounds, is less than three miles from the fairgrounds.

Humiston said he could not confirm if her exact property was notified, but close to 300 homes were reached the day before the event.

Robertson's recent grievance might seem like a sudden social media rant, but this isn't the first time she's raised her concerns about the lantern festival. When lanterns landed on her farm in 2016, she was ready with people watching for them in 2017. They didn't float that direction.

She still hired a lawyer to draft a letter to the fairgrounds team. Robertson was worried about damage to her property or equipment and she felt left out of an event that could potentially drift onto her land.

Now that it's played out this way, Humiston said he and his team are working to solve what seems to be a breakdown in communication. He said his lanterns and his events have a proven track record for safety. With 20 events this year alone, Humiston said they haven't sparked a single fire.

Night Lights has every intention of returning to Pinal County next year.

Robertson said she doesn’t have a problem with positive community events, but she would prefer to see anything other than lanterns.

“Butterflied, smoke, bubbles, I don’t know,” she said. “People are like ‘it’s spiritual, it’s wonderful.’ I agree with you, but there’s got to be a better way.”

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