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UW leadership says: No more couches

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A fire truck blocks lanes surrounding the median of 47th and 17th after the bonfire is extinguished.

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Firefighters sort through the burnt-couch debris from the bonfire Saturday night.

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Bystanders step back from the median at Northeast 47th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast as flames engulf furniture Saturday evening.

After the UW’s football upset against the University of Southern California on Saturday evening, at least three couches were set on fire at the median of Northeast 47th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast, the second such incident this year.

More than 200 spectators were present at the scene around 8:45 p.m. when UWPD officers, Seattle Fire Department (SFD) firefighters and Seattle Police Department (SPD) authorities responded to a call about the fire.

SFD Lt. Joe Robertson, one of the firefighters who responded to the incident, said the crowd was cooperative as soon as authorities arrived on scene, and SFD officials were able to easily enter the area and put out the flames.

In a similar incident, couches, mattresses and other belongings were burned at the same location in April following a power outage. Along with UWPD officers, a special squad of more than 40 SPD officers arrived in riot gear to disperse the crowd during the April incident. SPD estimated that the crowd had grown to at least 400 by that time.

Interfraternity Council (IFC) President Alec Maghami said that no one in an officer position, or representing the Greek system in any way, endorses or condones the incident on Saturday, and that there will be meetings with UWPD and SPD to address the issue.

“This isn’t something that’s just harmless fun, this time it seemed like that was the goal — to relive something that may have been fun in the past,” Maghami said. “Ultimately, you’re placing people near an uncontrolled flame, and you’re doing that on public property. … It’s a big safety issue.”

Maghami said that after the April bonfire, the Greek system reseeded the median of Northeast 47th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast, and that the IFC will most likely reseed the area again after the property damage from Saturday’s incident.

Norm Arkans, associate vice president of Media Relations and Communications for the UW, said that after the bonfire last spring, efforts were taken to try to raise awareness in the Greek community about being responsible neighbors and residents.

“We are very disappointed and discouraged when something like this happens,” Arkans said. “There are safety and community issues. … There are people who live in that community that don’t attend UW that don’t need to have couches burning outside their homes.”

Arkans said that the university can’t be in the students’ minds 24 hours a day, and he feels that Greek leadership has been working very hard to enforce community values and that a lot of progress has been made.

“Most of the time things go very well, but there are better ways to celebrate,” Arkans said.

He said that there will most likely be a convergence between the Office of Student Life, UWPD and Greek leadership in the near future to address issues like the bonfire.

Fire Marshal Jim Berger said Saturday night that SFD will launch an investigation into the bonfire and take legal action if any suspects are connected to the incident. The charges could range from reckless burning to arson, Berger added.

No one was charged after the April incident, and Maghami said that the only way blame could be placed this time would be if a house had security-camera footage that could positively identify a suspect. But rather than pinning the incident on certain individuals or a specific house, Maghami said that the more likely approach to addressing the issue will be to open lines of communication between the Greek system and UWPD and SPD authorities to make sure that there are no further couch bonfires.

A meeting between IFC, UWPD and SPD regarding safety goals for this year is scheduled for this week.

After the bonfire this weekend, Maghami said that the meeting will likely focus on what Greek leadership is going to do to raise community awareness and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Reach reporter Nick Visser at news@dailyuw.com.

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