35 fires, five arrests after victory
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 07:10
Following a West Virginia University victory against Texas Saturday, WVU students flocked to the streets of Morgantown, chanting and burning furniture in celebration.
The Morgantown Fire Department released a statement Sunday confirming 35 street fires Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
In the release, Morgantown Fire Department Captain Ken Tennant said there were 24 confirmed street fires and 11 dumpster fires throughout the city.
Tennant said off-duty firefighters were called to assist in the efforts after second alarm conditions were declared at 11:04 p.m.
"The fire department had to go to a second-alarm and call out off-duty personnel," Tennant said. "In certain locations, it was very dangerous for our firefighters. Several of our fire engines were pelted with beer bottles, beer cans, rocks. Even the fire chief’s car was pelted with debris. Several fire marshals had debris thrown at them."
In the Sunnyside neighborhood, students gathered around Grant Avenue and Third Street.
Tennant said students removed an energized light pole on Grant Avenue and tossed it into the fire – posing an even more dangerous situation.
Tennant said in an effort to gain control of the crowds on Grant Avenue, police in riot gear deployed pepper spray on the crowd.
"It was a very dangerous situation on Grant Avenue. There were several thousand people that the police were trying to control – large amounts of pepper spray deployed," he said. "They broke the pole loose, which was about 15 or 18 feet tall. They then toppled that over into the fire, which created dangerous conditions, because that was still energized."
As the fires continued, hundreds of students flocked to the Sunnyside neighborhood.
"I got there as the couch was burning for its first few minutes. I was standing on the porch of a friend’s house on the corner of Third and Grant. I was watching the couch burn with a crowd of people surrounding it.
More and more people ran toward it as ‘F--- Texas’ could be heard from blocks away. They were jumping up and down, chanting," said an anonymous sophomore finance student.
"During the couch burning people grabbed the black street light and pulled it into the fire. When the lamp post fell, the police – standing in front of Summit (Hall) – finally reacted and began running toward the crowd. Then, people started running away down Grant."
Despite efforts from University officials, students and members of the Morgantown community to put an end to the furniture blazing, the issue is still at large.
Last week, the West Virginia University Student Government Association released a video entitled "WVU Student Government says," save a couch, don’t burn one.’
Since its release, the video has received more than 87,000 views; however, University officials believe the message has been missed.
In a statement released by the University, Vice President of Student Affairs Ken Gray said students’ behavior during the weekend is insulting to the Mountaineers’ victory.
"It’s unfortunate that despite the coordinated efforts of the University – including students, law enforcement and the administration, and City of Morgantown officials – there remain a few individuals who choose to celebrate West Virginia University athletic successes unsafely and inappropriately. The behavior of some reacting to the Mountaineers’ victory Saturday night is unacceptable and detracts from the team’s achievements," he said.
Gray said the University is working to identify students involved and take the disciplinary actions necessary.
"WVU will continue to cooperate with Morgantown, Monongalia County and state law enforcement authorities in every way possible. University officials will also review videotapes, and any student who is identified breaking the law will be subject to the full range of civil and school penalties, up to and including expulsion. Students among those charged by civil authorities will also face school penalties, which again can include expulsion," he said.
Tweets and thoughts from students throughout the night flooded the social media timelines of many, and included:
"It’s tradition. Like it or not couches are going to burn&kids are going to rage. People know this around the world. #embraceit."
"I’m a TX fan (grew up there) & I went home this weekend b/c I was scared of the crazies. I shouldn’t have to feel that way."
"The fact that we won the game, I was so happy. Then people were pepper sprayed. It just ruined my mood."
Last year, the city of Morgantown deemed any instance of malicious burning resulting in at least $500 in damages to a felony offense.
This weekend, four WVU students were charged with malicious burning, including:
Andrew Thompson of Centerville, Va.; David Jospeh Costa of Germantown, Md.; Robert F. Comorosky of Loveland, Ohio; and Brett Zachary Stevens of Highland, Md.
University spokesperson John Bolt confirmed the students would be subject to University disciplinary procedures.
Non-student Alexander Zuo of Malverin, Pa., was also charged with the offense.
Ten others were arrested for offenses including battery on an officer, escape, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction. Other citations were issued for alcohol-related offenses.
"I don’t understand it. I’ve been working with the fire problem for the majority of my career," Tennant said. "This is not a proper way to celebrate these victories. It takes away from the hard work and the achievements of the football team."
Those with additional information are encouraged to contact the Morgantown arson tip-line at 304-225-3586.