Bonfire, pyrotechnics called off for Big Game Rally amid fire concerns

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Both the traditional bonfire and planned pyrotechnics show have been canceled leading up to the Big Game Rally, which is still scheduled to take place this Friday at 7 p.m.

UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton called off pyrotechnics at the Big Game Rally, held annually on the evening before the football game against Stanford University. The bonfire, traditionally featured at the rally, was previously canceled because of an air quality notice.

According to Rally Committee Chair Ryan Dana, Sutton decided to cancel the pyrotechnics show in a meeting with the Rally Committee on Wednesday evening. Dana said over text that the campus decided against the pyrotechnics show because of “PR reasons.”

“Everybody should be cognizant of what an extraordinary period this is,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “There are a lot of factors to be weighed here, and there is (a) complete understanding of how important the Big Game is to so many people and also awareness of what’s going on beyond the campus.”

The bonfire was canceled because of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s “Winter Spare the Air” notification, banning the burning of wood in the Bay Area. Currently, the Rally Committee is planning an alternative to the pyrotechnics show, Dana said.

Dana explained that while it would be disrespectful to hold a bonfire in light of the devastating wildfires that have recently spread across the state, the tradition holds a special place in the campus community, dating back to 1903.

“(The bonfire) has been a huge symbol for the Cal community for decades,” Dana said. “Cal is so microcosmic, and then this is really the only time we really come together to celebrate.”

Leading up to the most anticipated football game of the year — dubbed the “Big Game” — against rival Stanford University, Berkeley’s air quality has been classified as “unhealthy” by the Air Quality Management District because of the Butte County Camp Fire that started Thursday.

Dana said part of the concern about a bonfire in the Greek Theatre is the risk of embers spreading to the nearby hillside, especially because of this year’s drier weather. Though the fire marshal determines the risk of a bonfire, Sutton called off the pyrotechnics, and a statement will be released Nov. 15, according to Dana.

On top of heightened concern surrounding California’s recent blazes, an RV caught on fire Sunday evening in front of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. Dana said the RV fire held no sway over the decision to cancel pyrotechnics at this week’s rally.

While in a last-minute meeting to plan the rally, Dana said the Rally Committee would come up with an alternative.

“It’s a huge bummer, but we’re going to do what we can,” Dana said.

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.