Students set the night on fire
Josh Hartman / Sun Star
A little after 10 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 26 the first of the wooden structures was set aflame in the Nenana Parking lot on the south side of the UAF campus. This commenced the UAF tradition that is Starvation Gulch.
Several groups build these wooden structures out of pallets every year. The University Student Firefighter Association, Sigma Phi Alpha, Chi Alpha, two engineering student groups and the EDGE residence, which both Skarland and Moore halls contribute to, collected and arranged pallets for the fires.
The University Student Firefighter Association builds a structure every year, but they are not just involved in the building. The firefighters also doused the structures with fuel and lit them with a flare on a pole. Throughout the celebration, they monitored the fires to maintain a safe environment for the students attending the event.
For the Fire Department to prepare for the event they mainly have to obtain fuel to light the fires. According to Pat Mead, the Battalion Chief of the Fire Department, they go through between 50 and 100 gallons of fuel to light the fires.
“We try to go through each pile; we want them to burn efficiently. Some of them don’t like to to light,” Mead said.
For these groups the event really started a week or two before the bonfire as they collected pallets to build with.
The EDGE builders started collecting just a week before the event. They procured the pallets from various businesses around town, specifically in the Van Horn Road area.
According to Robert Doerning, a senior resident assistant for Moore Hall, the goal for the EDGE builders was to collect a minimum of 200 pallets for their structure.
Breanna Mcguire, an RA for Moore Hall, was part of the build for the EDGE structure. They had collected 220 pallets by the end of the week, according to McGuire.
After collecting the pallets they rented a 26-foot U-Haul to transport them from their “secret safehouse location” to the Nenana parking lot. After that they began to assemble the pallets into the 20-foot-tall “Eye of Sauron” and “Mount Doom” from the “Lord of the Rings.”
The EDGE team did have some trouble getting help for the collecting and building throughout the week.
“Getting freshman in the EDGE halls to participate was hard. For the most part it was just me, Robert and Zach collecting pallets,” Mcguire said.
Groups are able to use other materials like rope or string to construct their structures, however many of the groups just stack the pallets together.
“We might use rope, but it’s a lot of sometimes precarious free building,” Doerning said.
Alpha Phi Epsilon, boasted possession of the Tradition Stone was also their in possession as of the night of Starvation Gulch.
According to Levi Vernon, the vice president of Alpha Phi Epsilon, they had obtained the Stone three weeks earlier. Although the group built a structure, it was not easy for them.
“The hardest part is just getting people to help out,” Vernon said.
Shortly after the first structures were lit several people from Alaska Gravity Works began to juggle flaming objects. One of the members preformed with a hula-hoop that sported flaming torches. One of these performers was KC Nattinger who is studying Environmental Chemistry here at UAF.
“The beauty of fire as an art form is how people interact with it. The people who interact with it should be sober and have practice to do so though,” Nattinger said.
The night of the event there were several tents with people and organizations selling food and items. The Institute of Electronic and Electric Engineers, The American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance each had a space.
In addition to those organizations, Planned Parenthood had a tent where they were giving away safe-sex kits, condoms and candy for answering trivia questions.
Throughout the event, DJ Double X played dance music.
This event was inspired by Charles E. Bunnel, the first president of UAF, in 1923. In the early days of the event students built a wooden town that they would entertain themselves in until the night when they would use the town to fuel a massive bonfire.
The wooden town was named Starvation Gulch after the pioneers who first settled in the Fairbanks area and the hardships they endured. Even though the event that remains to this day does not include the building of a small town, it still holds the name that it did in 1923.
“We encourage people to be involved because it’s always a lot of fun,” Doerning said.