Burning Basket vandalized; repairs made and event will go on Sunday

For the second year in a row, a vandal or vandals snuck in during the dark of early morning and tried to burn the Burning Basket at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit. As also happened last year, while badly damaged, the basket survived the torching. By noon Saturday, volunteers working with Mavis Muller, the organizer of the community art project, had started repairs.

Muller said the Burning Basket will go on as planned. At 1 p.m. Sunday the basket is presented to the community. People are encouraged to release burdens of the heart and celebrate creativity and imagination by leaving mementoes and notes on the basket.

Three of the beachside walls on the basket got scorched. The fire totally destroyed a 2-feet wide woven sculpture of a fractured heart. Muller said security guards camped at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit did a check at 2 a.m. Saturday and went to bed. The vandal or vandals snuck in, apparently from the beach, and either shot flares or ignited the basket. Muller said Homer Police couldn’t determine how the basket had been lit. No suspects have been identified and the case remains under investigation. The fire burned out on its own.

The fractured heart piece represented an aspect of Muller’s 2016 projects building community art, the idea of protecting Alaska watersheds. At noon on Saturday volunteers already were creating a new fractured heart sculpture.

“It’s an intention of healing and protection,” Muller said of the heart. “The next one I build is going to take on a broader symbolism — to heal the fracturing (of the vandalism).”

In the progress of the week-long build of the Burning Basket, Saturday is the day when volunteers put the final touches on the basket. As with last year, that also meant repairing damage.

Three Australians visiting from Sydney had intended to leave Homer on Saturday, but Peter Simon, his brother-in-law Chris Laundy, and his sister, Jess Laundy, stayed to help fix the basket. They’re extending their stay to Sunday when the basket will be burned at sundown.

“We heard about this and decided to help,” Simon said.

“We’re all invested,” Chris Laundy said.

Last year, Elias Graham, 19, burned the basket on Saturday morning, damaging it severely. Volunteers repaired the damage, only to have Graham return on Sunday. He tied a rope around the basket from his truck and drove off, yanking the basket apart and scattering pieces all along the Homer Spit Road. The basket was repaired again, but not in its original glory, and the burn went on.

Graham later was charged with fifth-degree criminal mischief and pleaded guilty. He was ordered to perform 80 hours of community work service and write a letter of apology to Muller. Graham wrote an essay for a high school class in which he apologized for the vandalism. In that essay he wrote that he saw the basket being built and came up with a plan to destroy it.

“I thought it would be a funny prank to set fire to the basket before the event was to take place,” he wrote. “I understand what I did was wrong and am truly sorry for my actions.”

Muller said that Graham did not apologize directly to her and that essay was not acceptable.

Graham also was ordered to pay $780 in restitution to Muller. As part of that agreement, he could work off $500 in return for providing a list of materials to Muller by Aug. 1. At a restitution hearing on May 4, Graham said he was willing to do that, but by the deadline he did not provide those materials. According to court records, the $780 remains unpaid.

A call to Graham at his parents’ home seeking comment on the latest vandalism was not returned.

Muller said security will be beefed up for Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

“We’re circling the wagons,” she said. “Tonight I’m not leaving if I have to sleep on the ground.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.