West Virginia Law Unlikely to Halt Quest for Fire

Article excerpt

I don't get it. They act as though arson is wrong.

Morgantown officials seek to end the long-standing West Virginia University student tradition of setting aflame couches and trash bins when the university's sports teams win, when fugitive terrorists are killed, or whenever they feel like it.

The penalty for those getting caught adding butane to the bonfire used to be relatively minor. The malicious burning offense was a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine, an amount roughly equivalent to the kegs deposit required for a typical WVU frat party.

But the city's fire and police officials announced Thursday that people should think twice before scorching a sofa. Anyone now caught doing so will face felony arson charges that could send them to jail for as long as three years.

This heavy-handed maneuver is certain to ignite controversy. Never before has Morgantown's emergency management personnel treated harmless students like common criminals just because they consistently break the law.

While the promised crackdown may please activist organizations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Upholstered Furniture, history strongly suggests the strategy will fail.

But before it does, it could jeopardize Morgantown's carefully cultivated image as America's most flammable city.

As Paris is renowned for the Eiffel Tower and Venice for the breathtaking Grand Canal, Morgantown is known for its spontaneously set fires that occur when something interesting happens or, failing that, on weekends.

Take, for example, the long-overdue killing of Osama bin Laden in May by a Navy SEAL team. …