Persian fire-jumping ceremony a celebration with a bit of danger


Each year before the Persian New Year of Nowruz, Iranians gather on Southern California beaches to celebrate a festival of fire.

It’s part party, part cathartic ritual. Participants build small bonfires -- meant to represent all the bad of the previous year -- and then leap over the flames.

But on Tuesday night at Dockweiler State Beach, some of them didn’t quite clear the fires. Los Angeles Fire Department medics were called out several times to treat people who got burned.


Three people were taken to local hospitals, Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott said. Their injuries did not appear serious.

Because of Los Angeles’ strict fire codes, revelers often head to the beaches, where some fires are permitted, to celebrate the pre-Nowruz festival.

Shahad Saba, who works for the music website that helped put on the event, said the festivities drew more than 6,000 revelers. The night was warm and people were jovial. Under a moonless sky, families grilled chicken and beef kebabs and lounged on picnic blankets. Young people kicked off their shoes and danced to music by a popular Iranian DJ.

There were many bonfires, Saba said, and all through the night people leaped over them in a gesture meant to symbolize the transition of the seasons and the soul’s rebirth. They sang a traditional song as they did so.

Saba said he has heard of people being accidentally burned in the past, but he didn’t witness Tuesday’s injuries.

“It was probably something small because I didn’t notice,” Saba said.

He added that he has never worried about getting burned himself because, “I’m very good at it.”


Nowruz begins Saturday and will last for 13 days.

Nazee Rofagha, a local Iranian community leader who helps organize the celebrations in Pasadena, said her city -- close to the slopes charred in last summer’s Station fire -- skipped the bonfires.

“We don’t do fire in Pasadena,” Rofagha said.