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Texas A&M Bonfire: University considers rekindling the tradition

A special committee has the task of exploring ways to commemorate the school's football rivalry with UT-Austin. Now they're asking families of the 1999 bonfire victims for their input.
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 09, 2024

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M University president Mark Welsh created a committee to explore ways to commemorate the school's football rivalry with UT-Austin. Now they're asking families of the 1999 bonfire victims for their input.

  • The bonfire was a Texas A&M tradition for 90 years before it turned fatal in 1999, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more during the construction of the bonfire.
  • The event officially ended in 1999 but students have continued building bonfires off campus.
  • Locals seem to support rekindling the tradition if more safety precautions are put in place.

BROADCAST SCRIPT:

For a school steeped in tradition, ending one of those customs resulted from a tragedy.

The bonfire tradition began in 1909 — it ended in 1999, when 12 students were killed and dozens injured building the bonfire. Those 12 are still remembered at a memorial in College Station.

Now 25 years later, the tradition could make a comeback.

“I think it would be good as long as it’s done safely, obviously — I think the precautions need to make something done to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again but it’s such a great tradition and you know, just brings Aggies together.”

In November, Texas A&M University president Mark Welsh formed a committee to explore how to commemorate the renewed football rivalry with UT-Austin.

The Texas Tribune obtained a letter from committee member John Bellinger, asking the families of the victims for their input in restarting that tradition, that read:

"The members of the committee and I are extremely sensitive to your loss. I do not want to reopen the many wounds that you have, but it is important to me to have your opinion.”

The victims' families are also on the minds of visitors to the memorial.

“I think it was a fun tradition, very impressive. But I don’t know how the families of the deceased would feel about it.”

“I feel like it’d be cool to take it back, but it would have to be a bit more safe and also ask the parents about it too.”

Since 1999, students have still built unofficial bonfires off campus.

By bringing the tradition back as a school-sanctioned event, they hope to make it safer and provide more oversight so a tragedy like that doesn't happen again.