The Burning Man Project announced that improving weather would allow for an exodus to begin on Monday morning after rain and mud had left the roads impassable and stranded an estimated 70,000 people over the weekend. The organization said that it would have additional details for exiting the playa by 9 a.m. local time and that Monday would “bring clear skies, and a welcome chance to dry out.” The National Weather Service said Sunday that dry and warm conditions would help the area improve.
“We do not expect to have to evacuate the site,” the festival organizers wrote Sunday night. “However, we are in a high level of readiness due to weather uncertainty and playa conditions, to assist people on-site and leaving the site as needed, as conditions evolve.”
The scene at Burning Man has gained national attention over the holiday weekend, as videos and photos of muddy festival grounds, vehicles attempting to leave and celebrities hitching rides out of there have flooded social media in recent days. President Biden was briefed about a situation on Sunday.
But Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell maintained that the increased attention surrounding the muddy terrain, closed roads and at least one reported death at the festival was needless, describing it to NBC News as “a fuss.”
“There was no cause for panic. We are accustomed to extreme weather,” she said Sunday, adding that it was 107 degrees for several days at Burning Man in 2022. “It’s kind of part of the challenge and the ritual to actually be in the middle of extreme weather and work our way out of it gracefully.”
Despite the conditions and plans for stranded attendees to exit, Burning Man officials said the Man burn — in which a massive effigy is torched — was rescheduled for 9 p.m. local time Monday. The festival said the burning of the Chapel of Babel, a large-scale art piece, was scheduled to begin Tuesday at midnight, but there was no word if they planned to burn the Temple of the Heart, another massive structure.
Officials noted that while hotels were ready to help Burning Man attendees, the airport in Reno, about 120 miles away, would be stretched to accommodate all travelers.
“Make necessary adjustments with your airline before heading to the airport,” the Reno-Tahoe International wrote in an alert posted to its website. “Keep in mind that RNO is experiencing heavy passenger traffic so planning ahead is key.”
As Burning Man dominated headlines and social media over the weekend, misinformation and conspiracy theories have also been spread on platforms such as X, formerly known as Twitter. Burning Man has denounced the false claims, saying that “the online rumors of transmissible illnesses in Black Rock City are unfounded and untrue.”
Goodell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday morning.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating one death from the event but hasn’t issued a statement on the cause or if it was related to the weather.
“As this death is still under investigation, unfortunately there is no new information that can be released at this time,” Sabrina Adams Wallace, the records clerk for Pershing County, said in an email Monday morning.
Sanitation trucks were moved into Black Rock City to keep toilets clean and functional, organizers said Sunday. WiFi was made available at multiple locations across the festival site. Mobile towers were also set up around the city to help improve cellphone service.
The NV Energy company delivered four “cellular on wheels” vehicles to the Black Rock Playa on Saturday to assist emergency responders with helping evacuate attendees, company spokesperson Katie Nannini said in a statement. These vehicles are used to provide temporary cellphone service during emergencies.
Shuttle buses are running from Gerlach, which is about five miles outside Black Rock City, to Reno, which is 120 miles away.
Despite the harsh conditions throughout the weekend, plenty of attendees continued to party and celebrate in good spirits. Guests said they watched movies projected onto tents, while others danced among their friends into the dead of night. More experienced Burners, as attendees are called, provided resources to the newbies.
“People are sharing resources and looking after one another. Morale Saturday during the day and into the night was high and remains high today,” the organizers said. “There is music playing, camp meals being shared, socializing, and walking around the playa to look at art and interact as a community.
Some decided to start their exodus a little early on Saturday and Sunday, marred by the wet world they had found themselves in.
Among the videos from Burning Man was one of comedian Chris Rock and Diplo leaving the festival after an attendee picked up the celebrity pair in a pickup truck. The five-second video shows the DJ pulling up his ski goggles, while Rock, in a New York Knicks jacket, sunglasses and mud-stained pants, is smiling and taking in the absurdity of the situation with at least five other people in the bed of the truck.
“Just walked 5 miles in the mud out of burning man with chris rock and a fan picked us up,” Diplo wrote Saturday on X.
Neal Katyal, a 53-year-old law professor from Chicago and former acting U.S. solicitor general, said he and others around him weren’t worried about the weather when they arrived on Friday. “The vibe was strong,” he said.
The celebration didn’t last long as he and others were stuck in heavy and sticky mud by Saturday morning. “You sink into it like quicksand and it’s very hard to get your foot out,” he said. “Basically it was more slippery than ice.”
Katyal joined others in exiting early on Saturday to avoid another batch of oncoming rain. They walked together on a one-lane road of asphalt amid wet, sticky and gluey conditions, Katyal said, and wrapped plastic bags on their bare feet and put socks and boots over the plastic. The group carried backpacks with essential items like flashlights, water and socks. Eventually an Uber driver picked them up.
For Katyal, who said he is a “pretty experienced hiker” fresh off a hike in Colorado two weeks ago, the trip was not easy.
“The issue isn’t the six miles, it is the mud,” he said. “A few of us almost tumbled. … But we made it.”
POST AUTHOR: Herb Scribner, Timothy Bella