burning man

burning man

Maxar Technologies via AP)

In this satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies, an overview of Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nev on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.

BLACK ROCK DESERT  — The torrential rains that turned roads and grounds into muck and left thousands of people stranded at the Burning Man festival also put off the climax of the carefree celebration of art, music and counterculture: The annual burning of a manlike figure will not happen on Sunday night as had been planned.

A social media account associated with the Burning Man Project’s website said the burn would instead happen Monday night, adding that the muddy conditions and rain had made moving heavy fire safety equipment to the site unfeasible. The announcement marked the second postponement of the burn, which had been initially slated for Saturday night.

It was an unusual turn of events that tested the resolve of participants, who were told to conserve food and water, at the more than 3-decade-old festival that prides itself on grit and self-reliance and normally battles excessive heat and, sometimes, excessive partying.

True to form, some were taking it in stride.

“Burning Man is an all-weather state of mind,” Star Heartsong, 43, a tech entrepreneur who came from Austin, Texas, had said earlier. He added that “when it’s time to leave, we’ll leave.”

“Burners aren’t victims,” he said, using the name that attendees are known by.

But authorities were investigating the death of one participant, and the worsening conditions Sunday — it was raining harder in the afternoon than on the previous two days — could delay people leaving the event, which ends Monday and in normal conditions causes a lengthy traffic backup.

On Sunday afternoon, a White House official said that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation and that administration officials were in touch with state and local officials.

Accounts of the mud and efforts to leave ricocheted across social media and became something of a sensation in itself.

In a video posted by music producer Diplo on Saturday evening on X, formerly known as Twitter, he can be seen leaving the festival with comedian Chris Rock and others on the back of a vehicle. “just walked 5 miles in the mud out of burning man with chris rock and a fan picked us up,” Diplo wrote.

Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University and former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, said that he and several others hiked 6 miles to Gerlach, the nearest town.

Katyal and his group filled their backpacks with the essentials: “flashlights, water, extra socks — some of us like me had to bring our computers,” he said. They put plastic bags on their bare feet, socks over the top of them, and then put their boots or shoes on to “avoid being soaked,” he said.

“The hike was quite hard,” Katyal said, adding that the mud was “extremely sticky and heavy” and some people in the group almost fell. He expressed concern for those still looking to depart. “I think it is going to be very hard for people to leave for some days, but I think so many of the folks there have such a good spirit, dancing and making the most of it,” he said.

The festival — which culminates in, and takes its name from, the burning of the giant sculpture of a man — is held in Black Rock City, a temporary community that pops up each year in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada, a vast space known during the event as “the playa.”

Since 1986, when a small group of artists and friends gathered on Baker Beach in San Francisco to celebrate the summer solstice by burning a wooden figure of a man, Burning Man has been a magnet for artists, bohemians, tech workers, celebrities, social media influencers and people seeking a fun Labor Day activity and ready to practice the festival’s core ethic of “radical self-reliance.”

The makeshift town hosts more than 70,000 people every year and is a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, which is more than 100 miles away in Reno, Nevada. This year’s event began Aug. 27.

Heavy rains began Friday, and the festival site received more than half an inch of rain overnight, organizers said.

In other areas of Nevada, such as Las Vegas, fast-moving thunderstorms and flash flooding swept through over the weekend, with heavy flooding reported on the Las Vegas Strip. At least one driver had to be rescued from a car.

The rains Saturday flooded many campsites at the festival and led organizers to urge attendees to shelter in place and conserve food and water.

On Sunday, after a mostly dry night, the morning skies were partly sunny. Many camps took advantage of the dry lull to dismantle nonessential structures — living room tents, dance spaces and bars — and prepare for a faster exit when the playa road became drivable.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said the cause of death of one person was unclear and under investigation but that it did not initially appear to be related to the weather.

In the afternoon, heavy rain fell again for a period. No driving was permitted on the festival grounds except for emergency services. Some vehicles with four-wheel drive and all-terrain tires had been able to navigate the mud and leave, but others, including dozens of recreational vehicles and Jeeps, tried and got stuck.

Festival organizers said there was a chance that late Monday it would be possible to leave in vehicles and RVs, but only if conditions allow. Organizers also said that they would have buses in Gerlach to drive people to Reno.

The eventual departure of tens of thousands of people could be a nightmare, considering the condition of the roads and that traffic backups of more than 12 hours were typical in past years.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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