Workers toil through the night as Olympic officials try to douse flame flap

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VANCOUVER - Work has begun to try to douse the Olympic flame flap.
There was a beehive of activity near the Olympic cauldron early today as construction workers were making modifications to the fenced-in plaza that hosts the flame that will burn at the Vancouver Winter Games until Feb. 28.
It appeared that new concrete barriers were being laid out much closer to the flame. Dozens of workers and some heavy machinery were on the scene while security officials watched over the proceedings.
On Tuesday, Olympic organizers say they are putting the final touches on a solution that will include adjustments to the ugly chain-link fencing protecting the steel-and-glass structure as well as setting up a viewing area.
But they said details wouldn't be worked out until later today after security and Games officials had a chance to survey any new set-up to make sure it was safe for the public and yet still offered a level of protection to the flame from being the target of vandalism or protesters.
"This cauldron is unique because it is so close, so we're adapting to that," Renee Smith-Valade, the vice president of communications for the organizing committee known as VANOC, said Tuesday.
"We're going to put in place a plan that will give people, we think, a great way to see the cauldron both from up above and from street level."
The flame has been a 24-hour attraction in downtown Vancouver since it was the centrepiece of a glorious moment Friday when Wayne Gretzky lit the city's outdoor cauldron. But when The Great One was gone, so too was public access to the waterfront plaza where the flame now burns.
People who showed up the next day were confronted by the jarring sight of the flame locked tight behind a chain-link fence. The outrage wasn't limited to the public: members of the International Olympic Committee said privately they were stunned when they saw the fenced-in flame.
Even as construction was going on early today, people were still angry that a fence was put up in the first place.
"I would love it if they took down the fence," said Scott Crisp, who arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday from his home in Victoria. "It seems a little obscure there would be a fence in front of the flame."
The cauldron's location, right next to the International Broadcast Centre, turned out to be inside the secure perimeter established for the Games.
Organizers said placing the cauldron there did put it far closer than Olympic flames of past Games - they usually burn in or atop Olympic stadiums.
But if the 2010 flame was geographically closer to the public, psychologically it was as far away as possible.
The symbolism of placing the flame behind a fence became a symbol all itself.
Vancouver organizers now admit they also underestimated the number of people trying to bask in the flame's warmth.
Thousands have passed by each day, herded like cattle by an Olympic volunteer perched on a lifeguard's chair and armed with a bullhorn.
Vancouver organizers recognized the need for an external cauldron years ago when it became clear that their plans for indoor opening ceremonies - B.C. Place stadium is covered by a billowy fabric roof - would require an outdoor home for the flame.
So they settled on what they thought was an excellent location: a downtown waterfront plaza that was selected because it could permanently accommodate the massive gas-fed steel and glass structure, which stands 10 metres high.
It was going to be a legacy and the committee takes the idea of legacy very seriously - no venue was built, no contract awarded, no decision made without a conversation about how it could benefit the community both now and in the future.
As an added bonus, the province recently renamed the plaza after Jack Poole, the man largely credited for bringing the Games to B.C. and who died of cancer only a day before the flame was lit in Greece.
"The intention wasn't to put it behind a fence, it was to put it in a great place; it's a great shot of the city there," said John Furlong, VANOC's chief executive officer, recently.

Organizations: International Olympic Committee, International Broadcast Centre

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Victoria, B.C. Place stadium Greece

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