Texas A&M will not bring back bonfire tradition after collapse killed 12 in 1999, president says



Texas A&M University President Mark Welsh announced on Tuesday the school will not bring back the Aggie Bonfire traditionally held the night before the school’s then-annual football game against the University of Texas.

“I decided that Bonfire, both a wonderful and tragic part of Aggie history, should remain in our treasured past,” Welsh said.

On November 18, 1999, 12 people died and 27 others were injured when a stack of bonfire logs collapsed, after which the 90-year tradition ended.

Nearly 25 years after the longstanding bonfire tradition came to a tragic end, a committee recommended the university “reinstitute the annual Bonfire tradition with an engineer-designed, contractor-built bonfire on West Campus,” the letter from the president said.

The committee was formed last fall to recommend ways to commemorate the return of the university’s football rivalry with the University of Texas this year. Texas A&M stopped playing UT annually in football after their 2011 game, in part because Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern Conference. Following a 12-year hiatus, the “Lone Star Showdown” will return on Nov. 30 after UT officially joins the Southeastern Conference.

Despite the committee recommendation, it was ultimately decided “after careful consideration” that the tradition would not be resurrected, Welsh said.

“I have decided it is not in the best interest of Texas A&M and the Aggie Family to bring Bonfire back to campus,” he said. “I heard from many of you, as well as former students and friends of the university on this topic, and I thank you for your honest, thoughtful feedback. While the input varied, the majority of those who reached out were not in favor of reinstituting Bonfire.”

Most students who supported bringing back the campus bonfire highlighted the collaborative experience of organizing and building it themselves, but the committee stressed that it needed to be an engineer-designed and contractor-built project, the letter said.

The event was billed as the “world’s largest bonfire,” drawing thousands to the College Station campus. The stack of 5,000 logs was 59 feet tall when it collapsed.

A commission that investigated the accident found that “organizational failure” contributed to the accident. Decisions made by university officials and students over many years “created an environment in which a complex and dangerous structure was allowed to be built without adequate physical or engineering control,” the panel said.

Although the president said he will not be bringing back the bonfire, he said the university was planning on holding other celebratory events leading up to the game to reignite the rivalry “that has shaped our university in so many ways.” Proposals from the committee included a golf tournament and a run to carry the game ball from the state Capitol to College Station.

President Welsh said the Bonfire Memorial commemorating the lives lost is a “sacred place” and it “will remain the centerpiece of how we remember the beloved tradition and the dedication of those involved in the tragic 1999 collapse.”

A remembrance event will be held this year on the 25th anniversary of the collapse.

“We will continue to hold them and their families close at that event and always,” Welsh said.