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Burning Man stranded thousands, but they’re now leaving the desert

Chris Rock escapes Burning Man (along with everyone else)

Burning man festival
GemGemRemy / Pixabay

Some events, like Fyre Festival, were destined to be a disaster from the start — but Burning Man is well established, having built a solid reputation since its inaugural event in 1986. Unfortunately, man, burning or otherwise, can’t tame nature — and extreme rains have caused chaos over the course of the week-long desert-based festival.

The rains were close to continuous and apparently the worst that the festival and its attendees have ever dealt with. According to multiple reports, the amount of rain that fell on the site during a 24-hour period this weekend was equal to the amount of rain the site usually sees in a two-to-three-month timeframe.

Although “self-reliance” is one of the festival’s core themes, getting stranded in the desert is still tricky. Mud left vehicles stranded, the on-site lavatorial facilities were left unemptied, and trash was strewn everywhere. At least one fatality has also been recorded — though the cause is still being investigated. With roads out of the festival site closed for much of the weekend, organizers urged attendees to shelter in place and conserve food, water, and fuel.

Some attendees, including comedian Chris Rock, escaped the festival after trekking away from the site. Many have opted to hike five miles through the Black Rock Desert to the nearest road. Others are leaving by vehicle now that roads have finally been opened again —though at the time of writing, traffic on the safe routes out is gridlocked, and those attempting to leave this way are said to be waiting hours.

What is Burning Man exactly?

Burning Man is a highly exclusive, usually week-long, festival held annually in Nevada. It’s excessively popular, and potential attendees may, amongst other things, have to attend an interview where they are quizzed about the event’s “Ten Principles” to ensure that their philosophies match those of the festival itself. Nail the interview, and there’s a chance you could get a spot in one of the more desirable campsites. Fail it, and you probably won’t get a ticket at all.

The ten principles in question are radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

The event technically began when Larry Harvey and Jerry James built an eight-foot-tall effigy on a California beach and lit it on fire during the 1986 summer solstice. Since then, it has shifted location to the Black Rock Desert, snowballed into an enormous cultural event, and now involves burning a far larger effigy. The exact size varies from year to year, but the current record was set in 2014 when a 105-foot-tall structure was torched. Burning Man’s website contains the line “We will always burn the man,” and despite this year’s chaos, that principle still holds true. After several delays, the traditional festival finale went ahead, and organizers managed to burn said man on the evening of September 4.

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