A longstanding tradition at Provo High School was doused Tuesday night when students learned the state's open burnings law doesn't allow bonfires.
Several dozen students went to the City Council meeting seeking an exception to the city's open burnings law for a bonfire they planned to have tonight as part of Homecoming Week activities.However, Fire Chief Rod Jones and Mayor George Stewart told them bonfires are prohibited under state law. The City Council's legal adviser said council members can amend local ordinance but can't change the state law.
"I'm aware of no loophole that would allow this fire," attorney Richard Daleabout said.
Bonfires during Homecoming Week have been traditions at Utah high schools for decades. However, many districts are discontinuing the practice out of safety concerns. The mayor and Jones said bonfires are disallowed for air quality reasons.
Bonfires are a thing of the past, Jones said, and he wouldn't endorse one. The city denied Timpview High School's request for a bonfire a few weeks ago.
"We're not alone in this. This is a nationwide trend," Jones said.
However, with many schools still having bonfires and with events such as the Stadium of Fire getting exceptions to the law, Provo High students thought they should get one.
"I'm sure there's got to be an exception somewhere. These kinds of things go on all over the state," said Arian Lewis, mayor of the Provo Youth Council and a student body officer at Provo High.
Because the city didn't have an absolute legal decision that bonfires are illegal, Councilwoman Shari Holweg at first suggested that council members grant the exception and talk later about the law's justification.
"I have a hard time believing that the state Legislature or the EPA intended to shut down tradition," she said.
But she later agreed with other council members that they need to uphold the law and not send the message to students that circumventing the law is justified. All council members supported the students' push for a bonfire but said they couldn't approve one as long as it is illegal.
"I think we have to teach correct principles," Councilman Greg Hud-nall said.
The council voted unanimously to have Daleabout research the state law and decide the feasibility of launching a drive to have the law changed to allow future bonfires. They also vowed to provide the school with city resources for an alternative Homecoming activity, possibly an event involving one of the city's large firetrucks.
City officials praised the students' efforts and said, at the very least, they got a good lesson in the political process.
"I've never known any politicians as persistent as they have been," Daleabout said.