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University, Greek leadership, neighbors criticize student bonfire

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Monday night’s couch burning left a charred median at Northeast 47th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast.

Some students said there was no harm done by Monday’s bonfire, but the UW and Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Association officials have called the incident damaging and irresponsible.

University officials said students may be punished through the university’s disciplinary process, and Seattle Police Department (SPD) officials said the bonfire, which drew more than 400 students and 40 police officers, will not be ignored.

The bonfire on the median at Northeast 47th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast was “a real setback” to a year’s worth of progress in the realm of safety and responsible behavior north of 45th, said Eric Godfrey, vice provost for student life.

He said he wants to see students stepping up to repair both the damage to the community’s reputation and the physical damage from the bonfire. It’ll be up to student leaders to find a way to make sure it does not happen again, he said.

Some students, however, say that many have taken an innocent act and unnecessarily criticized it.

“I don’t think it should’ve got blown out of proportion like this,” said Nikolas Jorstad, a UW student who was at the bonfire.

Students burned their own possessions, nobody was hurt, and everyone complied with officers when they dispersed the crowd, he said. Jorstad said the one or two people who threw beer bottles at police officers should be punished but that it was not a “harmful event.”

University officials said otherwise.

“In our view, the incident was unfortunate and unacceptable,” Godfrey said.

Both the University of Washington Police Department and the SPD will be temporarily sending more patrols north of 45th because of the bonfire, said Aaron Hoard, deputy director for the UW Office of Regional Relations.

Apart from the increased patrols, SPD spokesperson Detective Jeff Kappel said the police are still sorting out the details, but the bonfire and accompanying crowd certainly diverted police attention unnecessarily.

“It pulls officers from other parts of the city where they would normally be patrolling,” he said. “The cost, if you will, would be all the other citizens who may not get service they normally would.”

David Zimmermann, a UW senior present at the bonfire, designed a T-shirt commemorating the bonfire. The shirts, for sale online, display a burning sofa and the words “one more couch.”

Students had chanted “one more couch” as police marched forward to break up the crowd. They were hoping to shove one more couch into the bonfire, which had already consumed several couches, a bed frame, “fratresses” and several traffic cones.

Zimmermann said he made the shirts as a kind of souvenir from an unusual night that brought students together as a community.

Some residents living in the community, however, were not so thrilled with the students.

“Right now, the president has to go to Olympia to try and round up some funds for tuition and for internal support,” said Reudi Risler, secretary for the University Park Community Club. “These things are just bad news for the university … it was just stupid, I don’t call it a riot, because it was just stupid.”

The fire began after students emptied out of their houses following the power outage Monday night. They started by burning small items — rumored to be a stack of Daily newspapers — before drenching a couch with lighter fluid and starting the larger blaze.

The crowd swelled to more than 400 before dozens of UW and Seattle police officers led a fire truck to the blaze, which firefighters extinguished in seconds.

The IFC and Panhellenic Association released a statement yesterday saying that discussions are in progress and that their quarterly street clean will be moved up to help repair damage from the incident. The leaders also issued a formal letter of apology yesterday to the University Park Community Club.

“The councils will continue meetings with fraternity and sorority presidents and leaders to educate them and their members about responsible behavior during future power outages or other unexpected events,” said the release.

Reach Development Editor Andrew Doughman at news@dailyuw.com.

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