AUBURN, Ala. — The trip to Toomer’s Corner went from glorious to gloomy in a flash.
The all-in-good-fun tradition turned to devastation Saturday night when one of the two primary Toomer’s Corner trees caught fire after Auburn’s win over LSU. First reported as inadvertent, the plot became far more devious when surveillance footage showed someone intentionally lighting the toilet paper on fire.
At 13-14 seconds, the guy walks up to the right tree, lights the left side of the toilet paper and walks away. Piece of trash. pic.twitter.com/L40AktdLwy
— Austin Scott (@austingscott) September 25, 2016
Auburn Fire Department Station 1 Battalion Chief Dow Sport told SEC Country the fire department arrived on scene at 12:17 a.m. Sunday, a minute after the emergency call, to the sight of a “completely engulfed” tree nearest Magnolia Ave.
“In terms of fire proliferation, it was similar to the pictures on Twitter. There was a lot of toilet paper on the ground that had also caught fire,” Sport said. “We pulled up into the middle of the intersection. and rolled out a hand line and started wetting everything down, extinguishing the tree and everything on the ground.”
Someone inadvertently set the one of the Toomer's Oaks on fire. It's out now, but all the toilet paper is burned off pic.twitter.com/0cSGRUBEFZ
— Sam Butler (@_sam_butler) September 25, 2016
After the initial extinguishing attempt, Sport said they hooked a deck gun up to a fire hydrant and began a 15-to-20 minute effort to eliminate any possibility of another fire.
“We can get a lot higher reach with that, a lot more water on the area,” Sport said. “Plus, it would soak down any of the remaining toilet paper, so someone couldn’t re-ignite.”
The tradition, which returned this season, might be approaching another sad fate. This isn’t the first time the fire department has reported to a fire involving the Toomer’s Corner trees. Sport said the Sunday incident “was about similar” to previous ones, minus the smaller size of the re-planted tree.
Smaller than before, the same amount of toilet paper provided a much more threatening coat.
“If it’s a larger tree, the same amount of toilet paper is more evenly dispersed and the wood is a lot heartier. This one being a smaller tree, finer branches, the toilet paper was a more thick blanket,” Sport said. “When it went up, when it was ignited, the fire proliferation was a lot greater than in the past.”
It quickly switched a night of celebration into a night of disappointment and mourning.
The initial rolling was set off by a crazy turn of events, as well.
As one Auburn fan described it, the final play of the Auburn-LSU game reminded him of the folklore about the 1997 Cleveland Indians, when they rolled the World Series champagne into the clubhouse only to watch the Florida Marlins steal the title from them.
In this case, it wasn’t champagne — it was toilet paper. The fans were itching to roll the Toomer’s Corner trees in a meaningful game. With one fourth-and-11 play, it looked like that hope was being stripped from their grasp.
“I’m not even going to lie to you, I started to tear up a little bit,” Auburn fan Steven Roberts (no relation to Stephen Roberts) said. “We were already starting to celebrate, and then that happened. And I don’t even know what actually happened.”
For seven straight Power 5 matchups in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn came up on the losing end. Six of those included SEC games, a skid that dated to October 2014.
But on that fourth-down play, LSU quarterback Danny Etling rolled to his right and tossed it in the direction of D.J. Chark, who hauled in the game-winning touchdown reception as time expired. The entire stadium went quiet, save for the LSU corner, which happened to be conveniently placed precisely where Chark & Co. could celebrate.
Then chaos ensued.
Did he get his feet in and maintain possession? That answer is yes. Did Etling cross the line of scrimmage before he threw? That is still up for determination. But, ultimately, it didn’t matter. The clock — set at 1 second from the previous play’s penalty — started on the referee’s whistle and Etling, as it was determined by a referee’s meeting, was unable to get the snap prior to it hitting triple zeroes.
LSU’s players and fans were the latest victims of the Crying Jordan craze. And Auburn’s fans, well, they were beelining for Toomer’s Corner.
“I got here as fast as I could,” Sandra Ellison said, just before tossing her fourth roll onto the trees. “I threw one of the first rolls of toilet paper, but I’m going to keep throwing them until they tell us to go home.”
Auburn fans have been able to roll the trees here and there during the past two years, but not for any meaningful games. After a disappointing start to 2016 — which, for a brief moment, seemed even worse — the chance to blanket Toomer’s trees in a big-time SEC game was overdue, especially against LSU in that fashion.
As one dramatic student put it: “I can’t even remember the last time I got to roll the trees,” she said.
Admittedly, she rolled them for Arkansas State and for the home victories in 2015. But none of that compared to the magnitude of a win of this nature, just when fans thought it was stripped from them.
And, by night’s end, the tradition very well might’ve been taken from them for good.