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Burning Man Attendees Have Begun to Leave Festival Site

Thousands of people who spent days stranded at the Burning Man festival in a rain-gorged stew of mud and slop began to pack up their camps on Monday and stream away from the sprawling festival site in remote northwest Nevada.

But it was a mucky, uncertain exodus. The ancient lake bed where the annual festival is held was beginning to dry out and harden on Monday after days of torrential rain, but drivers said they were still encountering foot-deep puddles and stretches of muddy bog along the five-mile route from the camp to paved road.

“You had to haul,” said Kristine Rae, 50, a physical therapist from Idaho who made it out in her truck. On her way, she saw marooned vehicles that weren’t so lucky. “There were cars stuck halfway up their wheels.”

Even in normal years, leaving Burning Man can take up to 12 hours as thousands of cars and trailers creep off the desert playa and onto a jammed two-lane road. This year, organizers urged people to consider postponing their departure until Tuesday to avoid creating an epic traffic jam.

On Monday, Black Rock City — the name of the site on federal lands where the annual celebration of arts and music takes place — was a hive of activity as people packed sleeping bags, stoves and muddy tents into their trunks before heading out. Some left excess water, food and camping essentials to festivalgoers — known as burners — who were staying.

Some had decided to stay in the hope that an improved weather forecast on Monday night might allow for Burning Man to hold a twice-postponed climax of the festival: the burning of a towering wooden effigy shaped like a man.

Muddy conditions and the inability to move heavy fire safety equipment to the burning site were also to blame for the delays, officials said on a social media account linked to the festival. The burn had initially been scheduled for Saturday night but was postponed to Sunday and then again to Monday night.

The weather across the area was expected to be drier and warmer on Monday, but a low pressure system may bring light rain showers by Monday night into Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

The event is held in Black Rock City, a temporary community that pops up each year in the middle of Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. Alternative routes have been created and may be available on Monday..

By Sunday night, the atmosphere around Black Rock City had become mellow and much more subdued than on Saturday, when attendees were urged to shelter in place and conserve food and water. Many of the dance and bar structures were dismantled during the dry lull on Sunday afternoon, and by the evening, attendees, who call themselves burners, were walking around the still-sodden site, many with plastic bags over their shoes to protect them from the oatmeal-thick mud.

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. This year’s event began on Aug. 27.

The authorities were also investigating the death of one participant but said it did not appear to be weather-related.

The festival site had been slammed with rain since Friday, creating dangerous and muddy conditions for those attempting to leave. Other parts of Nevada were also walloped with fast-moving thunderstorms and flash flooding over the weekend. Heavy flooding was also reported on the Las Vegas Strip.

Attempts to flee the site have been widely circulating on social media, including a video posted by the music producer Diplo. He said on Saturday that he and the comedian Chris Rock had walked five miles in the mud before being picked up by fans. The video showed the men and others sandwiched in the back of a pickup truck.

Another burner, Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University and former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, was among those who hiked six miles to Gerlach, the nearest town. He and others made the trek with essential supplies in their backpacks and with plastic bags on their bare feet with socks overtop and then stuffed into boots or shoes.

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

Mayor Hillary Schieve of Reno said Sunday on social media that the city was working with regional partners to prepare for a mass exodus of Burning Man. Certain parking lots of the local convention center were available for use, she said.

But for a festival that prides itself on grit and self-reliance, some attendees were taking the chaos in stride.

“This is the best Burning Man I’ve ever attended and I wouldn’t trade it for an early departure,” said Fausto Zapata, 51, of Los Angeles. “People were expecting catastrophe and ended up finding community. If at the end of the day Burning Man is about radical self-reliance, it came out in the most radical of ways this year.”

Anna Betts and Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.



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