No longer stranded, tens of thousands clean up and head home after Burning Man floods

Sep 5, 2023, 10:34 AM | Updated: 7:04 pm

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The traffic jam leaving the Burning Man festival eased up considerably Tuesday as the exodus from the mud-caked Nevada desert entered another day following massive rain that left tens of thousands of partygoers stranded for days.

A pair of brothers from Arizona who took their 67-year-old mother with them to Burning Man for the first time spent 11 hours into early Tuesday morning just getting out of the festival site about 110 miles (177 kilometers) north of Reno.

“It was a perfect, typical Burning Man weather until Friday — then the rain started coming down hard,” said Phillip Martin, 37. “Then it turned into Mud Fest.”

Event organizers began letting traffic flow out on the main road Monday afternoon — even as they urged attendees to delay their exit to help ease traffic. The wait time to exit Black Rock City was about 3.5 hours as of Tuesday at about 5 p.m., according to the official Burning Man Traffic account on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Roughly 36,000 people remained at the site Tuesday by mid-afternoon, organizers said.

The annual celebration of free spirits in one of the most remote places in America launched on a San Francisco beach in 1986 and has since grown in size and popularity. Nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists visit the Black Rock Desert every year to build a city of colorful themed camps, decorated art cars and guerilla theatrics in preparation for the ceremonial burnings of a towering, faceless effigy and a temple dedicated to the dead.

Most attendees travel to the stark desert for a week to express themselves with music and art, commune with nature, or “find themselves.″ Others visit the ancient lake bottom for a psychedelic party full of hallucinogens and nudity before the burning of the wooden effigy.

The event this year began Aug. 27 and was scheduled to end Monday morning, with attendees breaking down camps and cleaning up — until the rains came.

After more than a half-inch (1.3 centimeters) of rain fell Friday, flooding turned the playa to foot-deep mud — closing roads and forcing burners to lean on each other for help.

Burning Man emphasizes self-sufficiency, and many burners arrive in Black Rock Desert with limited supplies, expecting to face challenges in the form of brutal heat, dust storms — or torrential rains.

Disruptions are part of the event’s recent history: Dust storms forced organizers to temporarily close entrances to the festival in 2018, and the event was twice canceled altogether during the pandemic.

Mark Fromson, 54, who goes by the name “Stuffy” on the playa, had been staying in an RV, but the rains forced him to find shelter at another camp, where fellow burners provided him food and cover. Another principle of Burning Man, he said, centers on the unconditional giving of gifts with no expectation of receiving one.

After sunset Friday, Fromson set off barefoot through the muck for a long trek back to his vehicle — the dense playa suddenly a thick clay that clung to his feet and legs. The challenge, he said, was the mark of a “good burn.”

“Best burn yet,” he said. “The old, crusty burners who have been out there for 40 years would just laugh at us with all the creature comforts we come onto the playa with.”

The road closures came just before the first of the ceremonial fires were scheduled to begin Saturday night. Shortly thereafter, the fires themselves were postponed as authorities worked to reopen exit routes by the end of the Labor Day weekend.

“The Man” was torched Monday night, but the temple was set to burn at 8 p.m. Tuesday. By tradition, revelers leave the names of departed loved ones and other remembrances to be burned in the temple. For many, torching the temple has become the centerpiece of the burning — a more intimate, spiritual event than the rave-party-like immolation of the effigy.

The rain also posed significant challenges for authorities responding to emergency situations — including the death of a man identified as 32-year-old Leon Reece.

Due to the rain, access to the area where Reece was reported unresponsive was delayed, but authorities said it did not appear weather played a role in his death. A cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy, which can take six to eight weeks, according to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office.

Amid the flooding, revelers were urged to conserve their food and water, and most remained hunkered down at the site. Some attendees, however, managed to walk several miles to the nearest town or catch a ride there.

Many stuck at Burning Man turned to the official Black Rock City radio station — BMIR 94.5 FM — to issue pleas for rides to Reno, San Francisco and other neighboring cities. DJs informed listeners about what the stranded have with them — crates, bicycles, supplies — and offers to split fuel and food costs.

Alexander Elmendorf braved the harsh weather at a campsite set with trailers, RVs and an aerial rig. He was waiting Tuesday to clean up the debris left behind by the tens of thousands who exited the area.

“It’s gonna be a lot of work for everyone involved,” said Elmendorf, 36, who planned to stay until Friday to help with cleanup efforts. “And by that, I mean, get everything off the ground.”

By Tuesday afternoon the ground had lost most of its moisture, which at one point you could build a mud-based snowman in, he said. Elmendorf, who has been to Burning Man three other times, said staff had essentially kicked the last burners out each year.

“No one’s rushing anyone out this year,” he said. “I think more so people are rushing themselves off.”


This story corrects Phillip Martin’s age to 37.

United States News

Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs, left, and Eli Crane are seen together in a file photo. They were among fi...

Alexandria Cullen and Adrienne Washington/Cronkite News

Arizona Reps. Biggs, Crane vote to block defense bill as shutdown looms

Two Arizona lawmakers were among five GOP House members who broke ranks Thursday and voted to block the defense authorization bill.

1 hour ago

FILE - The sun sets beyond the downtown skyline of Kansas City, Mo., as the autumnal equinox marks ...

Associated Press

The fall equinox is here. What does that mean?

NEW YORK (AP) — Fall is in the air — officially. The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere. But what does that actually mean? Here’s what to know about how we split up the year using the Earth’s orbit. WHAT IS THE EQUINOX? As the Earth […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives for a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington. ...

Associated Press

New Jersey Sen. Menendez and his wife are indicted on bribery charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife have been indicted on charges of bribery. Federal prosecutors on Friday announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury. The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities search for suspect wanted in killing who was mistakenly released from Indianapolis jail

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A man wanted for a 2021 killing in Minnesota was mistakenly released from jail in Indianapolis last week and authorities are now offering a reward of up to $10,000 as they continue searching for him. Kevin Mason, 28, was arrested in Indianapolis on Sept. 11 but a preliminary review found he was […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, left, shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng duri...

Associated Press

United States and China launch economic and financial working groups with aim of easing tensions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department and China’s Ministry of Finance launched a pair of economic working groups on Friday in an effort to ease tensions and deepen ties between the nations. Led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Vice Premier He Lifeng, the working groups will be divided into economic and financial segments. […]

3 hours ago

Deb Libby, who poses in Worcester, Mass., on Aug. 21, 2023, has been on the state waitlist for publ...

Associated Press

Massachusetts has a huge waitlist for state-funded housing. So why are 2,300 units vacant?

Deb Libby is running out of time to find a place to live. Libby, 56, moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, four years ago, in part to be closer to the doctors treating her for pancreatic cancer. But the landlord wants her out by the end of the month and she can’t find anything else she can […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.



At Ability360, every day is Independence Day

With 100 different programs and services, more than 1,500 non-medically based home care staff, a world-renowned Sports & Fitness Center and over 15,000 people with disabilities served annually, across all ages and demographics, Ability360 is a nationwide leader in the disability community.


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

5 mental health myths you didn’t know were made up

Helping individuals understand mental health diagnoses like obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder or generalized anxiety disorder isn’t always an easy undertaking. After all, our society tends to spread misconceptions about mental health like wildfire. This is why being mindful about how we talk about mental health is so important. We can either perpetuate misinformation about already […]

No longer stranded, tens of thousands clean up and head home after Burning Man floods