Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    Bonfire undergoes changes to ensure safety

    One Homecoming tradition at the Capstone has burned brightly for decades.

    The Homecoming bonfire will be ignited on the Quad Friday after the conclusion of the Pep Rally at 7 p.m., said Robert Pugh, director of risk management.

    Pugh said the bonfire has been a tradition of the University for many years.

    According to The Crimson White’s archives, the University has hosted the bonfire to kick off the week of Homecoming at least as far back as 1949, when the newspaper ran ads for Lucky Strike cigarettes that boasted on the pack, “It’s toasted.”

    Pugh said the University has to partner with the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue services to watch over the burning of the wood, which he said is soaked in kerosene and diesel fuel.

    Duane Lamb, assistant vice president of facilities and grounds operations, said the Air Force ROTC at the University provides much needed support at the bonfire.

    “The Air Force ROTC is the catalyst or backbone behind the bonfire,” he said.

    Lamb said the Air Force ROTC keeps the area secure for spectators by stationing members every 25 feet to prevent the crowd from approaching too close to the flames.

    Pugh said Captain Jim Landers of the Air Force ROTC has served the University well in having his group to assist with the bonfire, and this year’s bonfire will be his last before he retires.

    Landers said the bonfire has changed in shape and form since he began monitoring it in 2006.

    He said the University has begun placing eight to nine inches of sand on the ground underneath the fire to prevent damage to the grass. He also said the towering structure of the bonfire has typically been stabilized with telephone poles.

    This year, the telephone poles will be done away with because they didn’t serve much of a purpose, he said.

    Landers said Texas A&M University’s 1999 bonfire, which killed 12 people and injured 27 due to a collapse during construction, used telephone poles to attempt to stabilize the wood structure.

    “I don’t know how they got away with it for so long without people getting injured,” he said.

    Landers said the bonfire last year burned off of a structure 30 to 35 feet tall in wood. This year, the structure will be 25 feet tall, but wider to compensate for the reduction in height, he said.

    Pugh said the University acquires the wood for the bonfire from Cottondale Products, a local business, which donated the wood last year as well.

    Cottondale Products transports a tractor-trailer full of wood to the University to be unloaded by the grounds crew, Pugh said.

    The Air Force ROTC in turn assembles the wood for the bonfire, Landers said.

    “We used to build it on Monday morning, but now we do it on Wednesday morning,” Landers said. “We had it built in less than two hours, [even though] this year we asked them to bring more pallets out.”

    Lamb said the University developed a policy and general provisions for the bonfire to ensure the entertainment will be conducted in a safe manner. He also said the University had to acquire a permit prior to hosting the bonfire.

    Lamb said the University exercises measures of precaution during the bonfire.

    He said more tents tend to occupy the Quad during Homecoming, and the University moves that potential fuel for an uncontrolled fire out of reach of the flames. He also said the University secures a rope around the area deemed hazardous to spectators and checks the weather forecast and wind speeds.

    Lamb said the rope circumscribes an area around the bonfire that ensures safety.

    “The rules state that we have to be 100 feet out,” he said. “But there is really no hazard. The Tuscaloosa Fire Department will have three vehicles here.”

    He said this year’s bonfire should be exciting since the weather is dry for the first time in four years during the week of Homecoming.

    “For four years [of Homecoming], we have one week of good weather,” he said. “Last year, it rained the entire week.”

    Also, Pugh said the wind speed limit that is considered safe for the bonfire is 20 miles per hour.

    Gregory Thomas, an Air Force ROTC cadet and freshman majoring in psychology, said the cadets have the opportunity to guard the wooden structure from any threat of disruption.

    “I know, from an ROTC perspective, it’s kind of an extra-credit job,” he said. “You [are given] the option to stay up there and guard it because someone from Auburn or somewhere can go up there and douse it.

    Bryant Cooper, a freshman majoring in business management, said the bonfire is conducive to a family atmosphere.

    “I’ve been to it before,” he said. “I liked it. I mean, I was younger so I was amazed by anything, but it creates a good family atmosphere.”

    Drake Tevos, a freshman majoring in biology, said the bonfire brings people together.

    “If it’s contained … it’s a good idea,” he said. “We had bonfires at my high school. It gets everyone together.”

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