PINELLAS PARK — Firefighters plan to turn up the heat with chili while other residents celebrate a retiring mayor during two of the city's most popular festivals. The Pinellas Park Chili Blaze is Friday from 6 to 11 p.m. and Country in the Park is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Both events will be at England Brothers Park, 5010 81st Ave. N.
This will be the 13th year for the Chili Blaze, an annual cook-off put on by the city's firefighters. Wristbands to sample chili recipes cost $8; admission is free. Proceeds from the cook-off benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a charity Pinellas Park firefighters have supported for years.
"(MDA is) one of the causes we've been committed to," said Pinellas Park firefighter Nick DelGrosso. He said last year's Chili Blaze raised $21,000 and that the firefighters raised a total of $43,000 for the cause throughout the year from boot drives and other activities.
DelGrosso said the event usually draws 8,000 to 10,000 people. Attendance was so high one year that participants ran out of chili in 20 minutes. There's now a 5-gallon minimum. Anyone can enter their chili, but participants fall into three groups: open, professional/corporate and firefighters. Teams can register at chiliblaze.com, where cook-off rules are posted. DelGrosso said there will be about 50 teams this year, all competing for a trophy.
Chili tasting isn't the only activity. The festival will have fireworks at night, live music, inflatables for kids and a motorcycle show. DelGrosso said the purpose is to get families out.
"You can walk around and not spend a dime," he said.
The same could be said about Country in the Park, a free festival and trade show. This year brings a new musical headliner (Kentucky HeadHunters) and a goodbye to Mayor Bill Mischler, who will not be seeking a seventh term. Pinellas Park media and public events manager Joel Garren said "special things" will be done to celebrate the mayor. There will also be a business expo, for which Garren said businesses can purchase tables. Attendants can also take part in a car show, pony rides and kids' activities.
"Hope the weather's good and we get a good turnout," Garren said.