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New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival crowd sets fires, throws bottles

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bonfires burn in the streets of Keene, New Hampshire
  • Some in the crowd throw beer and liquor bottles
  • This is the city's 24th annual Pumpkin Festival
  • Keene is located about 80 miles northwest of Boston

(CNN) -- Tear gas and pepper spray hung in the air as police in riot gear descended on Keene, New Hampshire, on Saturday night, trying to disperse a rowdy crowd that brought chaos to the city's 24th annual Pumpkin Festival, CNN affiliates reported.

"State and local public safety officials are on the scene and have been working closely together to defuse the situation," Gov. Maggie Hassan said a statement. "We will continue to monitor the situation and provide any assistance necessary to Keene."

Bonfires burned into the early hours of Sunday morning on city streets that were littered with broken beer and liquor bottles, video from CNN affiliate WMUR showed.

"I am saddened and disheartened at the events surrounding this year's Keene Pumpkin Festival," said Keene State College President Anne Huot. "Despite the concerted efforts of organizers, city officials, police, and Keene State College, there continued to be disruptive behavior at parties in multiple locations around the city, injuries, and property damage."

Huot said Keene State students bore some of the responsibility for the unruly behavior, but also suggested that some outside the community had billed the event "as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior."

Authorities weren't able to provide exact figures, but CNN affiliates reported dozens of arrests and the Southwest New Hampshire Mutual Aid Dispatch Center reported multiple ambulances being sent to the scene.

"I got hit with a Jack Daniel's bottle, like across the face," Keene State student Roger Creekmore told WMUR.

Steven French, 18, who was visiting from Haverhill, Massachusetts, described the chaotic scene to the local paper, The Keene Sentinel, as "wicked."

"It's just like a rush. You're revolting from the cops," he told the paper Saturday night. "It's a blast to do things that you're not supposed to do."

Other young people shouted expletives at police, started fires in the road, pulled down a street sign and apparently tried to flip over a Subaru, the Sentinel said.

Because of arrests (140 last year, the Sentinel reported) and injuries at past festivals, the community has held forums in recent years -- inviting police and emergency room doctors as well as residents -- to explore ways to mitigate the violence, vandalism and littering that come with the celebration.

The pumpkin festival is a source of pride for the community of 23,000 people about 80 miles northwest of Boston. Last year, the event set a world record with 30,581 lit jack-o'-lanterns, according to the festival's website.

"It's ridiculous. It's not Pumpkin Fest," Jacob Gowans, another Keene State student, told WMUR. "We're supposed to have a fun weekend. This is stupid."

CNN's Joe Sutton and Jackie Castillo contributed to this report

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