ATHENS — (Scroll down for update) Another year, another “PalmerFest” on the campus of Ohio University that required the presence of tear gas and riot police.
“PalmerFest” is described by one student who didn’t want to be named as “an epic block party with booze, drugs and fun”. The street festival even has its own Wikipedia page that says the party began in 1991 with about 500 neighbors and friends getting together. The neighborhoods in the Palmer Street area have many OU student-rented houses and apartments.
In past years this party has garnered national attention after riot police had to shut the party down in two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010. But after a year hiatus from riot-gear-clad officers putting a halt to the “festivities”, OU Students once again are trying to hold tightly to their title of #1 Party School in America (Princeton Review, Aug 2011).
Social Media lit up Saturday (April 28, 2012) evening just as 11 Palmer Street was also lighting up in flames. A house fire that investigators say started in the basement of the student-rented house in the center of the block party. Pictures began flowing onto Twitter and Instagram of the partying, drunken actions and a house on fire… Then the pictures of students face to face with riot police started showing up in the feeds.
A witness stated a lit cigarette had been the spark to the fire around 7 pm. By 7:36 pm, Athens Mayor, Paul Wiehl declared a riot which sent armored police onto the streets. Police were instructing students to either get inside or leave. According to an official release from the Athens police department, 21 people had been arrested Saturday. Ten before the fire, and 11 while police were trying to clear the street and area to allow fire fighters to put out the fire. The Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit said on their Facebook page, “#PalmerFest: 47 arrested Saturday. Charges include underage, drug possession, disorderly conduct, fake ID and misconduct at an emergency.” ODPS says they will release the total arrest numbers and a list of those arrested on Monday (check back Monday for the full list). The ODPS-IU regularly patrols “PalmerFest” in search of alcohol related crimes.
On lookers said the crowd began chanting things like, “Burn Baby Burn”, “The Roof is on Fire” and others. Back in 2010 as the mounted police patrolled the streets to keep the students out of the roadways, bottles, cans and other objects were thrown at them while the crowds chanted “USA, USA” and “Ole, Ole, Ole”.
“I’m extremely grateful that no one was injured by this fire, and I certainly commend the efforts of the police and safety crews that worked to put it out,” OU Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi told the Columbus Dispatch. “We’re trying to offer any support we can to the residents of the home in terms of emergency housing or anything they need. Our primary concern is the safety of our students.”
If the university’s primary concern is the safety of their students, why are they not condoning this activity and putting in place harsher rules to prevent it in the future? Local leaders, some students and faculty at the university along with Athens residents are calling for a complete shut-down to “PalmerFest” in the future.
(UPDATE 4/30/12 3:30 p.m.) The Ohio State Fire Marshal, Larry Flowers has deemed Saturday’s fire as arson.
The Fire Marshal’s office said someone broke into the basement of the building and purposely set the fire. The specifics of what was used to start the fire were not immediately available.
“This fire put the lives of party goers and the firefighters at risk. What may seem like a harmless prank could have led to several injuries or even death,” Flowers said. “This is a very serious matter and we need to find the person or people responsible for this fire.”
A Blue Ribbon Arson Reward up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the person(s) responsible.