Duke students celebrate a win by burning benches on the Main West Quadrangle.
Duke students celebrate a win by burning benches on the Main West Quadrangle.

Bonfires have marked Duke basketball victories for years, but the tradition has come under scrutiny due to potential safety risks it presents.

Following a victory against arch rival North Carolina or a national championship, students run onto the Main West Quadrangle and burn a pile of benches to celebrate. Historically, students have tried to start unsanctioned bonfires that cause breaches in safety, Durham Fire Chief Daniel Curia said.In 2005, Duke's bonfire permits were revoked. However, Duke has in recent years made great strides in complying with bonfire safety guidelines.

“Bonfires are a very unique Duke event, but at the same time they are very dangerous events," senior Leilani Doktor, Duke Student Government vice president for social culture, said. "And there are a lot of risks involved in having so many students participate in them. But all of the guidelines have been followed very closely in the past several years.”

The guidelines, which have remained unchanged for many years, include eight rules specifying where, when and how bonfires can be burnt. Some regulations have both protective and historical significance, such as the specification that all bonfires be burnt in front of Kilgo Quadrangle's House P.

“After the 2001 national championship, a formal marker was placed in the main quad that commemorated that win and designated that spot as the bonfire site,” Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said.

Other rules are more technical, such as the specification that the boundary of the bonfire be contained within 40 feet.

“That’s a precaution against the possibility of the benches and wood used to build the fire falling over, so the fire marshal specifies that the crowd be kept 40 feet away from the bonfire to account for that.” Doktor said.

Overall, administrators, DSG and the Durham County Fire Department concur that all parties are putting forth effective work to enforce the rules and promote safety during this time-honored, yet risky tradition.

“Over the last few years I feel as though we’ve had a lot of success. Overall, Duke, the fire department and the city have all worked well to adhere to the guidelines that have been set forth,” Curia said. “In the name of celebrating the achievements of Duke basketball, the most important thing is ensuring that Duke students follow the guidelines and are kept safe.”