Mason Yeigh, 18, hopes to change a city ordinance to allow large bonfires for school pep rallies as his senior project. The North Medford High School senior is working with Medford’s fire marshal on crafting the new rule. pennell photo - Bob Pennell

An advocate for school spirit

To ignite school spirit, Mason Yeigh is pushing for a big bonfire.

The city code prohibits large recreational fires, so the North Medford High School senior is taking on City Hall as his senior project.

"The whole student government is behind it and they think it'd be cool," said the 18-year-old.

Yeigh, a representative of the student government, also organizes school assemblies and reads morning announcements over the school speaker system. He said he sees a lack of school spirit and has been looking for ways to unify the student body.

"If we find one big event, we can all tie together," he said.

And a 15-foot high on-campus bonfire event could be just the thing to unite the school's various social groups.

At first, Yeigh was hoping students could gather around the bonfire during Homecoming Week this week.

Medford Fire Marshal Dan Patterson said Yeigh approached the fire department about his plan. That's when he learned recreational fires could only be a couple feet wide and a couple feet high.

"There's a prohibition against open burning in Medford except for under very strict guide-lines," said Patterson, adding that recreational fires can only be small and require permits. He said Yeigh asked if there was an avenue for the council to make an exception.

"There's no way to get there the way the code is written," said Patterson.

So the two worked out a way to have 12 small fires — the school's first bonfires — Wednesday night as part of the pep rally before Friday night's football game.

In addition to 20 chaperones and distance regulations, there will be hoses and fire extinguishers on hand.

"We'll go out and review what he's done prior to that event," said Patterson.

Letters from Patrick Royal, NMHS principal, as well as a neighboring resident and church all support the dozen small fires this week, so the only thing that stands in the way is the possibility of the Department of Environmental Quality deeming Wednesday as not a burn day.

But this week's fire event is just the beginning for Yeigh.

Patterson said he is working with the high schooler to rewrite the city ordinance, and said larger bonfires may be legal as soon as early 2008.

Yeigh said he wants to do it safely to prevent accidents like a fatal bonfire construction accident at Texas A&M. In November 1999, 12 students were killed and 27 injured when a 40-foot high pyramid of logs assembled for a pep rally bonfire collapsed. Officials said the bonfire was made of thousands of logs, and 58 people were constructing it when it collapsed.

Yeigh said the logs in the Texas tragedy were unstable, and he's proposing a bonfire made of wooden pallets stacked in a pyramid, as well as a distance requirement and a lot of adult supervision.

The senior presented his idea to the council at its Thursday meeting.

"I felt like it'd be better if I worked with them instead of stepping on anyone's toes," he said.

He was well received by city leaders.

"It sounds like you're on the right track with the fire marshal," said Mayor Gary Wheeler Thursday. After a draft code change is written by the fire department, the council will decide whether to approve it.

Yeigh said when the time comes he hopes to get a lot of students to attend the public hearing with the City Council.

"I think we got a good chance," said Yeigh.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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