25 Years After Tragedy, Texas A&M Might Bring Back Bonfire

Collapse killed 12 people in 1999
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2024 5:41 PM CDT
25 Years After Tragedy, Texas A&M Might Reinstate Tradition
In this Nov. 18, 1999, file photo, Texas A&M students and rescue workers gather at the base of the collapsed bonfire stack as the search continues for victims in College Station, Texas.   (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

It was one of Texas A&M University's most prized traditions—until it became one of the university's worst tragedies. Almost 25 years after the Aggies bonfire collapsed during construction, killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others, the university is considering reinstating the tradition, the Texas Tribune reports.

  • The bonfire. "From its inception as a scrap heap in 1907 to the more familiar ... stack of vertical logs, the Fightin' Texas Aggie Bonfire symbolized every Aggie's 'burning desire' to beat the University of Texas in football," a university memorial page states.

  • The tragedy. In the early hours of Nov. 18, 1999, the 60-foot structure of more than 6,000 logs collapsed, killing 11 students and a former student. The building of the stack of timber, a months-long project, did not have professional supervision. "It was a product of craft rather than science, a towering but primitive totem built according to methods that were passed on by word of mouth from one year's group of artisans ... to the next," Texas Monthly reported months after the tragedy.
  • Reinstatement efforts. In a January letter obtained by the Tribune, university Board of Regents member John Bellinger wrote to relatives of the victims of the 1999 tragedy asking for their input on resuming the tradition. Sources tell the Tribune that Bellinger has proposed having a construction company build the bonfire. In the letter, Bellinger cited safety concerns about an unsanctioned bonfire built around 15 miles from campus every year.
  • Why now? Later this year, Texas A&M will play its first game against the University of Texas in years, and university President Mark Welsh has formed a committee on how to commemorate the renewed rivalry, the Tribune reports.
  • Controversy. Officials say no decision on reinstatement has been made yet. A member of the rivalry committee tells the Tribune that Bellinger and the other regent committee appear to have an "agenda" to bring back the bonfire. The member says that in meeting with families, Bellinger "strongly implied, if not said" that families who opposed reinstating the bonfire "didn't understand the spirit of the tradition and what it means to Aggies."
(More Texas A&M stories.)

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