UC Berkeley students take environmentally-kinder approach to bonfire with 'Project Phoenix'

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- They say tradition becomes our security. Students at CAL have held their yearly big game bonfire since 1892, but on Friday night, believe it or not, wood pallets will not fuel the flames. CAL students are taking an environmentally-kinder approach.

Some might consider it almost sacrilegious to build a bonfire using steel. But dry conditions and spare-the-air-days forced UC Berkley to cancel this event in the past. So this administration warned students it was time to make changes.

The UC Rally Committee reached out to pyrotechnics with experience in Burning Man to help build what students now call "Project Phoenix." The structure is 8 feet wide and 14 feet tall, producing flames up to four stories high.

"Burning gas or butane, let's off 99 percent less particulate than wood does because it doesn't let off embers," said Claire Robbins, chair of the UC Rally Committee.

Why choice butane instead of propane? That's the question for Aiden Newboles a chemical engineering major.

"The thing about butane is that it's a much more cleaner gas to burn as opposed to propane," said Newboles.

On Friday, in addition to putting together like a giant puzzle, students used gloves to keep fingerprints from damaging the surface.

"There's some body oils and sweat which is mostly water and the water will cause the structure to start rusting," said Zander Danto.

For CAL students, this will be the new normal -- a steel bonfire fueled by butane. Still, there are those who remember the old days when freshmen were given the task to fuel the beast.

"When it was time for the tradition to happen, the whole Greek Theater would start chanting 'Freshmen more wood, freshmen more wood' and it would just build and build and build and get louder and louder," said Megan Wiener.

Rival college, Stanford gave up the tradition in the early 90s.

"We adapt and they kinda give up so... ouch! I know, sorry Stanford."
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.