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

Texas A&M University

November 19, 2019 – Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young announced the permanent discontinuation of the Bonfire tradition following the tragic events that took place in 1999. The decision was made after extensive deliberation and consultation with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community leaders.

Background of Bonfire Tradition

The Bonfire tradition at Texas A&M University dates back to 1900, with students gathering to build and burn a massive structure as part of the annual spirit week activities before football games. However, in the early hours of November 18, 1999, a tragic fire broke out during the construction process, claiming the lives of twelve students and injuring over twenty others.

President’s Decision

In a heartfelt and emotional address to the university community, President Young stated, “The time has come for us to move forward with a renewed commitment to our core values of respect, responsibility, and excellence. Bonfire, as it has been practiced in the past, no longer aligns with these values.”

Moving Forward

In place of the Bonfire tradition, President Young announced several initiatives aimed at fostering school spirit and unity. These include increased funding for student organizations, a renewed focus on mental health resources for students, and the creation of a memorial garden to honor the lives lost in the 1999 tragedy.

Texas A&M Bonfire Tradition: A Tragic History

Background: The Texas A&M Bonfire is a long-standing tradition at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Every year, students gather to build a massive wood structure, which is then set ablaze the night before the university’s football game against the University of Texas. This event holds significant importance to students as it symbolizes school spirit, unity, and the anticipation of the upcoming football game.

Description and Significance

The Bonfire reaches heights of up to 12 stories, with students contributing wood from their personal property. The event attracts thousands of attendees and is a testament to the deep-rooted pride within the A&M community.

History and Origin

The tradition dates back to 1909 when students gathered to burn a ‘C’ for cattle, representing their rivalry with the University of Texas, which had a ‘U’ as its symbol. Over time, it transformed into a bonfire event that continued to evolve.

The 1999 Bonfire Tragedy: On November 18, 1999, just before midnight, a massive bonfire collapsed prematurely. The cause was traced back to an accidental ignition of the propane tanks used for cooking during the event. The fire spread rapidly, engulfing students and volunteers.

Event Details

The collapse occurred unexpectedly, causing panic among the crowd as they tried to escape the flames. In the ensuing chaos, 12 students and volunteers tragically lost their lives, while 27 others sustained injuries.

Human Toll

The impact on the A&M community was profound; students, faculty, and alumni were left in shock. The 1999 tragedy marked a dark moment for Texas A&M University, leading to extensive soul-searching and change within the institution.

Addressing this issue in an outline is crucial as it serves to commemorate the lives lost, acknowledge the significance of the tradition, and highlight the importance of safety measures during large-scale events. The Bonfire tragedy underscores the importance of continuously reviewing traditions and implementing necessary changes to ensure the well-being and safety of all participants.

Reactions to the Tragedy and Its Aftermath

The aftermath of the Texas A&M University Bonfire Tragedy on November 18, 1999, left an indelible mark on the student body, alumni, and the entire A&M community. The shock and grief were palpable as students and alumni grappled with the loss of 12 young lives and the injury of over 30 others.

Student response and grief

The mourning process on campus was a somber testament to the resilience of the A&M family. Students gathered at Memorial Student Center, where they held vigils and shared stories of their lost classmates. Campus memorials were erected, including a permanent Bonfire Memorial at the site of the tragedy, where students continue to pay their respects.

Mourning process and memorials on campus

The emotional impact of the tragedy was profound. Students, alumni, and the entire A&M community were left to grapple with their grief in the aftermath. Many students found solace in each other’s company, forming support groups and counseling sessions to help them cope with their loss.

Emotional impact on students, alumni, and the A&M community

University response

The university administration’s initial reactions ranged from shock to disbelief, with many students and alumni calling for changes to the Bonfire tradition. In response, several committees were established to address safety concerns and determine the future of the Bonfire tradition.

Initial reactions from administrators and students
Establishment of committees to address safety concerns
Decision-making process regarding the future of the Bonfire tradition

Community response and media coverage

The Bonfire tragedy resonated beyond the A&M community, with reactions from other universities, student organizations, and fraternities/sororities expressing their condolences and support. Media reporting on the tragedy and its impact on the A&M community was extensive, with coverage from local, national, and even international outlets.

Reactions from other universities, student organizations, and fraternities/sororities
Media reporting on the tragedy and its impact on the A&M community

I Factors Contributing to the Decision to Discontinue Bonfire

Safety concerns and investigations

Following the Bonfire tragedy in 1999, several investigations were conducted to determine the causes of the incident. The results of these investigations revealed numerous safety concerns and potential risks related to the Bonfire tradition. For instance, inadequate crowd control measures, lack of emergency medical services on site, and the use of flammable materials were identified as contributing factors. Furthermore, potential risks and safety issues associated with the Bonfire tradition, such as accidents due to intoxication and the potential for injuries from falling debris or fire, were brought to light.

Legal considerations

The Bonfire tragedy also had significant legal implications for the university. Lawsuits were filed against the university by families of students who lost their lives or were injured during the incident. The liability concerns and potential financial implications for the university in dealing with these lawsuits were significant factors that influenced the decision to discontinue Bonfire.

Changes in campus culture and attitudes towards student safety

In the aftermath of the tragedy, there were significant changes in campus culture and attitudes towards student safety. The incident highlighted the risks associated with hazing, alcohol consumption, and other high-risk behaviors. As a result, there was an increased awareness of the importance of student safety on campus. Additionally, shifts in student values and priorities following the tragedy made it clear that a tradition that posed such significant risks was no longer aligned with the university’s mission and priorities.

Alternatives and Replacements for Bonfire Tradition

Commemorative events and activities

Following the tragic incident involving the Bonfire tradition, Texas A&M University has made significant efforts to honor the memories of the 12 students who lost their lives. The university has organized various commemorative events and activities aimed at fostering healing, reflection, and unity among the student body. One such event is the “Aggie Spirit Day”, where students are encouraged to wear maroon and white in honor of their fallen peers. Another event, the “Eternal Flame of Friendship”, is a vigil held annually at the site of the old bonfire, where students gather to remember and celebrate the lives of their deceased classmates. The impact of these events on student morale, engagement, and sense of community has been profound. Students feel a renewed sense of pride in their university and a deeper appreciation for the importance of fostering meaningful relationships and traditions that promote unity.

New traditions that promote unity and school spirit

In the wake of the Bonfire tradition’s discontinuation, Texas A&M students have embraced new traditions that promote unity and school spirit. One such tradition is the “Yell Practice”, where thousands of students gather to rehearse their famous yells, showcasing their school spirit and unity. Another tradition is the “Midnight Yell Practice”, where students gather at Kyle Field to yell in support of their football team before each home game. These new traditions have not only filled the void left by the Bonfire tradition but have also become symbols of resilience, unity, and school spirit for the Aggie community.

Long-term implications for student life and campus culture at Texas A&M

The discontinuation of the Bonfire tradition and the emergence of new traditions have had far-reaching implications for student life and campus culture at Texas A&M. Changes in the social landscape of the university have led to a renewed emphasis on promoting healthy and inclusive traditions that foster unity, respect, and safety. Student organizations, administrators, and alumni have played a crucial role in shaping this new campus culture. The university’s commitment to fostering a welcoming, inclusive, and safe community has led to an environment where students feel empowered to engage in meaningful activities that promote positive change. The future of campus culture at Texas A&M is bright, as students continue to embrace new traditions and reaffirm their commitment to the values that define them as Aggies.


Summary of key points discussed in the outline: In this analysis, we delved into the events leading up to and following the tragic Bonfire incident at Texas A&M University in 1999. We explored how student traditions, alcohol consumption, and lack of oversight contributed to this unfortunate event. The bonfire was an integral part of Texas A&M’s campus culture for decades; however, the tragedy exposed significant safety concerns and called for reforms in student activities.

Reflection on the lasting impact of the Bonfire tragedy on Texas A&M and its community:

The Bonfire tragedy marked a turning point in Texas A&M’s history. It led to increased awareness of student safety, changes in campus traditions, and stricter regulations on student events. The university administration took steps to prevent such incidents from happening again, implementing new policies and procedures for event planning, safety protocols, and communication among students, faculty, and administration. The tragedy also brought the Aggie community closer together, fostering a renewed sense of pride and commitment to ensuring that their campus remains a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Final thoughts on the importance of addressing student safety, tradition, and campus culture in higher education settings:

The Bonfire tragedy serves as an important reminder that student safety should be a top priority for universities. While traditions and campus culture play a significant role in shaping the university experience, they must coexist with a safe and inclusive environment. Universities have the responsibility to strike a balance between preserving traditions and ensuring student safety. This can be achieved by engaging students in open dialogue, providing resources and education on risk management, and fostering a culture that values safety above all else. The tragedy at Texas A&M demonstrated that even the most cherished traditions must evolve to meet the changing needs of students and society as a whole.

In conclusion, the Bonfire tragedy at Texas A&M University was a defining moment in the university’s history. It brought attention to the importance of addressing student safety, tradition, and campus culture within higher education settings. Through open dialogue, education, and policy changes, universities can ensure that traditions evolve while maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for students.