Rain-Drenched Desert Delays Exodus from Burning Man Festival

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The exodus from the rain-drenched, mud-clogged Burning Man festival grounds in the Nevada desert noticeably eased by Tuesday. The severe weather had trapped tens of thousands of spirited revelers onsite for days, causing delays in their scheduled exit following the popular yearly bash.

Among the festival-goers were two brothers from Arizona, who experienced Burning Man for the first time together with their 67-year-old mother. They found themselves embroiled in an 11-hour trek at the crack of dawn just to vacate the festival site situated around 110 miles north of Reno.

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“Up until Friday, the weather was classic Burning Man—blue skies and dust. Once the rains hit, though, it was like we’d landed in the middle of Mud Fest,” Phillip Martin, 47, recalled ruefully.

Organizers of the festival had begun permitting a controlled outflow along the main exit route Monday afternoon. They concurrently encouraged the attendees to stagger their exit to help alleviate traffic congestion. By Tuesday’s close at 5 p.m., the official Burning Man Traffic account on former Twitter platform, X, reported an average wait of about three and a half hours to leave Black Rock City.

Approximately 36,000 people were estimated to have stayed at the site until mid-afternoon on Tuesday, organizers reported.

The event, hosted annually in one of the loneliest corners of America, kindles the spirits of the free-minded. Since its inception on a San Francisco beach in 1986, the festival has grown in size and popularity, attracting almost 80,000 artists, musicians, and activists each year who erect a vibrant temporary city. This city hosts a mix of themed camps, adorned art vehicles, and on-the-fly theatrics in anticipation of the ritual burning of a towering, faceless effigy and a temple dedicated to the departed.

The sudden downpour on the Friday of 2021’s festival, which began its yearly run on August 27, dumped more than half an inch of rain on the attendees. Flooding ensued, transfiguring the playa into a landscape of foot-deep mud and closing roads. This renegade weather led to closures that coincided with the night of the first scheduled ceremonial fires.

Monday night saw the incineration of “The Man,” with the temple set for its turn in the ring of fire at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. At the symbolic burning of the temple, festival goers tender past tokens and the names of lost loved ones to the flames, creating a pivotal, intimate moment that often eclipses even the effigy burning itself.

The rain also complicated the response to emergency situations, including the unfortunate death of a 32-year-old man, identified as Leon Reece. Authorities were quick to report that the weather did not play a role in his death.

Meanwhile, the flooding triggered calls for the temporary citizens of Black Rock to ration their food and water, with most remaining at the flooded site. Desperate attendees took to the local radio station, BMIR 94.5 FM, to request rides and connect with others for commutes to Reno, San Francisco, and other nearby cities.

Burning Man veteran Alexander Elmendorf, 36, was determined to weather out the storm at a campsite fitted with trailers, RVs, and an aerial rig, waiting until Tuesday to commence cleaning up debris.

“As everyone leaves, the task ahead is clear and tedious,” Elmendorf mused. “All the leftovers need to be picked off the ground and the site restored. It’s going to be a communal effort, not just for the organizers.” By Tuesday afternoon, the moisture-laden ground had dried somewhat, indicating the start of the recovery of the playa. “This year, everyone’s rushing to get off; there’s no rush to kick them out,” he concluded.