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Provo students relish the burn

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PROVO — Like couches, Christmas trees burn.

Jared Swenson knew that as he amassed some 150 trees — some still decorated with lights and tinsel — on his front lawn in Provo over a week-long period.

And he had plans for the discarded evergreens.

Friday night, he hauled the trees to the shores of Utah Lake and torched them, to the delight of about 600 college students dancing around the flames like cavemen.

Burning things — mostly couches — has become an annual tradition for Swenson and his friends. They even have a Web site www.couchburning.com dedicated to the annual party.

The Web site details the event's history and features pictures of bare chested men basking in the glow of couches engulfed in flames.

In Provo, home to LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University and a city routinely voted as one of the most boring college towns in America, Swenson and his friends have ignited some pyromaniacal fun to enliven Provo's nightlife.

The idea for this year's burning was ignited when Swenson's roommate, Ryan Davis, brought home a truck load of Christmas trees for a bonfire.

Because Swenson had other plans, the roommates decided to delay the bonfire for a week. In the meantime, the group decided to gather as many trees as possible.

Calling themselves "Paul Bunyan" and "Spanish Dancer" on a two-way radio, the BYU students set out in two pickup trucks on a citywide tree sweep that netted 50 the first day.

They pulled trees from dumpsters, curbs and driveways.

"I think we did the city a service by disposing of all those trees at no cost," Swenson said.

Provo zoning enforcers never complained, even as the pile of dead trees grew taller on Swenson's front lawn.

And within days of dumping the first load, Swenson, Davis and roommate Micah Christensen awoke to find their truck beds full of trees, left by strangers during the night.

Swenson and his friends spent all day Friday lugging the trees to a remote spot on the south tip of Utah Lake.

Their friends — and a number of people they didn't know — trudged through mud and snow until coming to a clearing as open as the salt flats.

There, under a sky littered with stars, one tree after another burst into a flame, the fire rising like an offering into the sky.

Then, in what he called the "grand finale," Swenson and dozens around him hurled the last of the trees into the fire.

As flames rose 50 feet in the air, the crowd danced, hooted and jumped around the fire to the pulsing bass beat of rap music.

"I don't know what happened to everybody," said Rob Atkinson, who was at the tree-burning party.

"It was like people didn't know what would happen when they threw the trees into the fire. They ran around like a bunch of savages. It was great."

Perhaps, after a turbulent year packed with anxiety and uncertainty, it was a release — an expression of joy at its most primal level.

Maybe it was just kids having fun.

Or maybe it was just a bunch of college kids burning things.

E-MAIL: jhyde@desnews.com