Wednesday, August 9, 2000
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Volume 65, Issue 166 

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Texas A&M students plan unofficial bonfire despite hazards

Cougar News Staff

Texas A&M students planning an unofficial bonfire this fall will not receive any support or endorsement from the university, an A&M official said.

Keep the Fire Burning, a student organization that formed earlier this year to urge A&M administrators not to cancel the annual bonfire, is attempting to organize a fire off-campus. The official Aggie Bonfire has been suspended until 2002 at the earliest, pending review of its construction and safety policies.

But A&M Vice President for Student Affairs J. Malon Southerland said he told the group during a July 31 meeting that an off-campus event will not be allowed to affiliate itself with the university in any way.

"This won't be the real Aggie Bonfire, but should anything go wrong during this process, that may be a fact that the nationwide media and public may have difficulty understanding," Southerland told The Battalion, A&M's student newspaper. "That may have negative effects on our efforts to produce a safe bonfire."

Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar

Texas A&M promises it will not associate itself with a student-led movement to build an off-campus bonfire this fall. The university has suspended its traditional bonfire, which collapsed in November (above), for at least two years pending development of new safety regulations.

The bonfire, which has been a tradition at A&M for nearly a century, was suspended for two years after the 1999 bonfire stack collapsed in November, killing several students and injuring others. The university is now examining bonfire design and construction processes in an effort to make the event safer when it resumes.

Members of KFB alleged that Southerland threatened to prevent an off-campus bonfire, but Southerland said he didn't make any threats during the meeting.

Nevertheless, KFB board member Joe Dyson, a sophomore at A&M, said he feared Southerland's warnings could cause problems in organizing the off-campus event, particularly if officials bring up the issue of official participation by university organizations or departments.

"He used the expression that, 'If it looks like a skunk, and it smells like a skunk, it might just be a skunk.' He meant that if a couple hundred people from the same dorm show up, then that dorm might be considered as being there in official school capacity," Dyson said.

Southerland did not discuss that aspect of the event, but said an off-campus bonfire could affect the process of redeveloping the official Aggie Bonfire by 2002.

"I think with this loss of life, it is right to stand back and give two years' moratorium out of respect," he said.

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