Graham Street couch fires offer warm welcome to students

Couch fire as a welcome celebration for the beginning of the school year. (Violet Armistead/AQ)

The sound of sirens and a mass of university students filled the streets near College Hill until the early hours of the morning last week. This was to celebrate the annual tradition of burning couches and partying on the street to kick off the school year. 

Welcome week was a dry week — until Sept. 10 at midnight, students were not allowed to use substances or be under the influence on campus. Partygoers moved to Graham Street, where couches and other objects burned in the road. The sound of sirens followed. 

“I couldn’t believe that they were actually burning a couch in the middle of the street,” said Cesar Camacho, a second-year international student from Ecuador, who saw the burnings  from his house on Graham Street. 

“I was just cooking some chicken when I heard loud noises coming from outside of my house … I looked out of the window and saw a huge fire with a lot of people gathered around.” 

Due to the dangerous manner of these off-campus street parties and risks that they pose to the city, Fredericton firefighters and police officers were on scene putting out the fires and managing crowds. 

This included David McKinley, the assistant deputy chief of the Fredericton Fire Department.

“The history we have is that when school starts up, or late in the year when school is finishing, sometimes people go out partying and get a little carried away and start lighting old couches on fire,” said McKinley.

“We were having upwards of 30 calls a season and of course, all were bunched up towards the week school starts.”

McKinley said that there have been more than 10 fires so far this year involving university students. In an attempt to avoid these situations, the fire department created a dumpster program where students can leave discarded furniture for free at the top of Windsor Street.  

The administration at St. Thomas University, as well as the University of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Community College, met with the Fredericton Police Force and sent emails to students regarding school policies and conduct. 

The letter sent out to STU students explained that off-campus incidents are “subject to our student conduct policies.” 

“This encompasses actions that endanger the health, safety and well-being of other individuals, damage to property, or criminal code or other violations,” read the letter signed by STU president and vice-chancellor Dawn Russell.