University seeks 3 bonfire permits for spring

Students with a burning desire to recreate the mayhem of past years' bonfires after major basketball victories may get their chance this spring.

Despite problems with the tradition last year, the Durham Fire Department has approved preliminary plans to grant three fire permits to the University this semester.

"They have signed off on the operating program to run the bonfires," said Fred Knipper, fire and safety manager in the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office.

The permits, which have not yet been granted officially, are pending University compliance with a revised logistical plan.

At the behest of Duke Student Government, administrators have requested permits for this year's men's basketball contest against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as the men's and women's national championship basketball games.

University administrators did not apply for a permit for a bonfire following the men's basketball home game against Wake Forest University-a contest for which students are tenting this season.

DSG President Jesse Longoria, a senior, said DSG only requested three permits because of uncertainty regarding this year's tenting policy.

Duke obtained four permits last year, but controversy arose during the first bonfire, which followed a victory over UNC Feb. 29.

Rules demanded that no more than three benches be burned simultaneously. When the rule was broken, firefighters extinguished the blaze, and the fire marshal rescinded the permits for the remaining games.

University administrators are now working with the Durham Fire Department to get the permits restored. "The expectation is that once we fulfill the requirements of the operating plan the permit will be reinstated," said Sue Wasiolek, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

The operating plan outlines rules concerning the size, placement and oversight of fires and how supervisors will be trained.

"This is not new. It's just been formalized and everyone has signed it," Wasiolek said. "I suspect that we will have to demonstrate that we have done the appropriate training."

Several stipulations are being added to rules governing bonfires. "Without giving confidential information to the marshal, we have to ensure him that, for any students who violate the policy, appropriate action will be taken," Wasiolek said.

She added that the city is expected to grant the second and third permits if festivities go smoothly following the UNC game.

Campus Council President Jay Ganatra, a junior, and Longoria met with administrators to discuss the possibility of students helping to maintain safety and order during bonfires.

University administrators hope to supplement the normal, administrative oversight team-known as the A-Team-with students, who would help to ignite and maintain fires. Any students involved would have to undergo training before participating.

"These organizations representing students will take the point in recruiting students to make sure safety is maintained," Longoria said.

Ganatra said the administration hopes that making the celebration more student-led will give oversight teams more credibility with students.

Wasiolek said she is confident the University's adjustments will appease the city's concerns. "I'm optimistic, and there's no sign that we won't get the permit," she said.

But her optimism included a forewarning. "If we fail at any time there will not be a second chance," she said

Durham fire officials declined comment for this story.


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