More than 1,500 people hadn’t made it into Fort Marcy Park by the time officials decided to light Zozobra afire last year — mostly due to long security lines for those with backpacks, and back-to-back storms that prompted a move to burn Old Man Gloom several minutes earlier than scheduled.
“It was unfortunate,” said Ray Sandoval, the event’s lead organizer.
While Sandoval still regarded last year’s Zozobra a success — 62,254 people made it inside — he said this year’s event, scheduled for Friday night, will include a few changes in effort to ensure things run more smoothly.
“You never want to run an event like this and think, ‘Well, what we did last year is what we did,’ and that be it,” he said. “The biggest takeaway is … you admit to your mistakes when you make them, and you learn from them.”
Following the 2018 event, Sandoval said the Kiwanis Club scrambled to “make things right” with those who were locked out. He said the organization refunded ticket payments to about 1,600 people, costing the club about $17,000. It also gave each individual a Zozobra poster, a free ticket to this year’s event and a one-night hotel stay at the Drury Plaza Hotel.
Sandoval said one key problem last year stemmed from a decision to allow backpacks into the event, which created long lines at security tables. This year, Sandoval said, Zozobra is back to the no-backpack rule.
However, Sandoval said food will be allowed inside the gates, so long as it’s in clear plastic containers. At the entrance, he said there will be aisles where people can wrap food items in plastic bags.
Sandoval said he’s also encouraging people to show up at least a couple of hours before the grand finale. Last year, too many “showed up at the last minute,” he said, which only exacerbated congestion at the gates.
“If you were going to see Justin Timberlake at 9:30, you wouldn’t show up at 9:15,” he said.
Sandoval said after the 2018 experience, when lightning danced around the field, officials will keep safety a key consideration. And though lightning storms are a concern, fire officials said wind is actually a bigger threat.
Reynaldo Gonzales, a fire marshal with the Santa Fe Fire Department, said the burn can’t happen if winds are above 13 mph, adding the direction of wind is also a factor. In the past, officials have had to delay for up to an hour. Canceling is a last resort, he added.
Gonzales said the main risk involves a 12-foot VIP platform that overlooks the stage, which is made of metal. That platform had to be evacuated in 2018, he said, in fear that if lightning moved closer it would strike the area.
When lightning is within a 7-mile radius, Gonzales said it could be necessary to evacuate everyone from the field.
But even then, he acknowledged, “It’s not a written rule.”
Gonzales said he works with a group of officials — an emergency manager, representative from law enforcement and Sandoval — to make decisions dealing with safety.
All weather-related decisions, Sandoval said, are made based on information provided by an onsite meteorologist, who is dedicated solely to the event. He said last year’s data showed lightning was more than seven miles from Fort Marcy.
While Gonzales said organizers have never had to evacuate the entire park, he encouraged visitors to be aware of the nearest exits, just in case. He said there are six exits around the venue, including Morales Road, Bishops Lodge Road and Old Taos Highway.
John Muñoz, the city’s parks and recreation director, said he is confident in the preparations officials and volunteers have made.
“I think the organizers have done a great job of debriefing what happened [last year], what didn’t happen, what could happen,” Muñoz said. “They have a good game plan.”
Thus far, Sandoval said he expects at least 60,000 people to attend but said 65,000 “is not unrealistic.”
4:30 p.m.: Gates open
4:30 to 7 p.m.: Preshow entertainment includes New Perspective, Dream Noise, the Schoen-Sand Duo, Smooth and the Santa Fe Youth Mariachi Ensemble
7 p.m.: Easy D performs
8 p.m.: Grupo Fantasma performs
9:05 p.m.: 600 beach balls will be thrown into the crowd
9:25 p.m.: National anthem
9:33 p.m.: Lights out, burning begins
• Organizers encourage visitors to take an Uber or Lyft to the burning of Zozobra. If you use a ride service, you will be dropped off and picked up on Lincoln Avenue, south of Federal Place.
• Parking in all city of Santa Fe parking facilities will be $7 per vehicle from 6 p.m. until midnight. All parking meters will run on a regular schedule, meaning they will be free after 6 p.m. If a meter is red-bagged, visitors may not park there or they will be towed.
• There will be free parking at the South Capitol Parking Lot at the corner of Cordova Road and St. Francis Drive.
• Shuttles from the South Capitol parking lot are free. Shuttle service starts at 5 p.m. and will run continuously.
• Santa Fe Trails buses will run typical routes on their normal schedules. Riding these buses on any route will be free after 5 p.m. Friday. See the bus route: www.santafenm.gov/route_maps_and_schedules.
• For those coming from Albuquerque, the New Mexico Railrunner Express will adjust its schedule on Friday. For more information, see bit.ly/ZNMRX2019.
• Food, as well as child care and medical supplies, are allowed in clear plastic bags. Coolers or food containers are not allowed.
• Refillable water bottles are allowed but must be empty upon arrival. There are free water stations on the field.
• Glass containers and open containers are prohibited.
• Alcohol and recreational drug are strictly prohibited.
• Only collapsible strollers are allowed. Large, nonfoldable strollers and wagons are prohibited.
• Small collapsible cloth camping chairs are allowed. Metal lawn chairs are prohibited.
• Backpacks are not allowed.
• Purses cannot be larger than 4½ inches by 6½ inches.
• Camera bags are allowed only with valid press credentials.
• No umbrellas, drones or pets, though service animals will be permitted.
• No weapons. This includes concealed or open carry weapons. Any weapons found during search will be confiscated and not returned.
Event information: To learn more about Zozobra, visit burnzozobra.com/event-information/event-faq