The Aggie Bonfire Tragedy

A tradition is in trouble: twelve Aggies are dead, the campus is still in mourning, and experts are questioning whether the bonfire collapse was just a freak accident. Now A&M officials must decide whether keeping an Aggie icon is worth the risks.
An outhouse representing a T.U. frat house tops off the 1995 bonfire, which announces the Aggies’ burning desire to defeat their archrival in football.
Photographs courtesy of Mike Kellett

A few minutes after two-thirty on the morning of November 18, the bottom stack of the Texas A&M bonfire began to groan and creak like a door opening in a horror movie. The 18-foot logs, which were wired together so that they stood perpendicular to the ground around the base of a towering center pole, started to lean slowly to the southeast. Above this base rose three more perpendicular stacks, stair-stepped to make the entire 59-foot structure resemble a wedding cake. Each tier rested on the one below it, so that when the bottom layer shifted, the entire stack of logs, more than a million pounds of timber, was set in motion.

At that moment, Thomas Kilgore couldn’t believe his eyes. One of the student leaders of the bonfire project, he was walking around the perimeter of the bottom stack, carrying out his assigned task of making sure that everything was going according to plan, when he thought he saw some logs move away from him. Thinking that his eyes were playing tricks on him — he felt weary, hungry, and a little faint — he shook his head to clear it and took a few steps back to get a better view. That retreat may have saved his life.

Brittny Allison was sitting on a plank some thirty feet in the air, suspended by ropes from the center pole as she wired incoming logs to those already in position in the second tier, when she saw the

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