Seventeen years ago Friday morning, a bonfire tower being built by Texas AM students in advance of the upcoming Texas versus AM football game collapsed in the predawn darkness.
The collapse took place at roughly 2:42 a.m. Nov. 18, 1999 when logs lower in the tiered, wedding cake-shaped stack broke, causing the 59-foot structure to fall.
Later investigations by the U.S. Fire Administration revealed that the logs on the lowest tier lacked adequate reinforcement from metal cables which would have allowed them to sustain the extreme weight stacked above (see full report below).
Also cited was a lack of adequate design plan and process and a ” cultural bias which impedes risk identification.”
Twelve members of the 12th Man were killed in the accident, putting an end to one of the university’s longest held and most beloved traditions and leaving behind a wound on the heart of Aggies everywhere that still lingers today.
Today, the bonfire build still exists in unofficial events away from campus. Several design changes have been made to preserve structural integrity and prevent another collapse. Among those changes:
– the bonfire is built at a shorter height;
– the center pole is made out a single wooden utility pole ( designs prior to the collapse utilized two utilities poles spliced together with a 10-foot overlap, held together by five gallons of glue, eight long bolts and four steel plates);
– the center pole is connected via welded pipes to four outer utility poles further out in the structure to lessen shifting;
– rather than stacking logs on top of one another to create the iconic, tiered, wedding cake shape, logs of different lengths are used, all of which touch the ground.
Read the U.S. Fire Administration’s full report on the Bonfire Collapse at Texas AM University (story continues below)
Today, a bonfire memorial and Spirit Ring built at the site of the collapse on the polo fields pays tribute to the students who died in the collapse, as well as those who worked to save their fellow students.