By Anna Tong and Rich McKay
BLACK ROCK CITY, Nevada (Reuters) -Thousands of Burning Man attendees partied hard on Sunday despite downpours that turned the Nevada desert where the annual arts and music festival takes place into a sea of sticky mud and led officials to order the multitudes to shelter in place.
One person had died at the event in the Black Rock Desert, authorities said on Sunday, providing few details. An investigation is underway.
Some of the estimated 70,000 people in attendance ignored the order to stay put and attempted to drive or walk to the nearest highway about five miles (8 km) away, where organizers had arranged to have shuttle buses waiting before the shelter-in-place order was announced. While hundreds escaped, others got stuck in the thick, gooey mud that coated the normally dusty lake bed where the festival occurs.
Despite the conditions, the overall atmosphere was as festive as ever – maybe even more so. Those remaining said there was plenty of food and drinks to keep the party going.
Videos posted to social media showed costumed revelers – including a few children – sliding through the sticky mess, most of them covered from head to toe in wet earth.
“When you get pushed to extremes, that’s when the most fun happens,” said Brian Fraoli, 45, a veteran “burner” who works in finance in New York.
Fraoli said he had tried to drag his luggage through the mud and escape, but gave up and decided to relax and enjoy the experience. “Overall it was an amazing week and next time we will be more prepared,” he said.
Every year Burning Man brings tens of thousands of people to the Nevada desert to dance, make art and enjoy being part of a self-sufficient, temporary community of like-minded spirits. This year’s version opened on Aug. 27 and was scheduled to run through Monday.
It originated in 1986 as a small gathering on a San Francisco beach and is now attended by celebrities and social media influencers. A regular ticket costs $575.
Burners typically arrive in groups and set up themed “camps,” ready to contribute to the festival’s “gift economy” philosophy by providing goods or services without the expectation of receiving anything in return.
It is an ethos that was on full display on Sunday.
At a dive-bar-themed camp called Sharkey’s Bar, a team served drinks into the wee hours on Sunday, giving out free cocktails to the drenched attendees.
Other camps hosted parties around their ornately decorated vehicles that can resemble Carnival floats, blasting music and dancing away any concerns of being stranded.
‘IN REALLY GOOD SPIRITS’
The festival gets its name from its culminating event, the burning of a large wooden structure called “The Man” on the penultimate night. Organizers will attempt to light the fire on Sunday night, even though more rain is in the forecast.
“Everyone here seems in really good spirits,” said Paul Reder, who has been going to the event for 22 years, adding that people were sharing food and water. “There’s a general sense that this is going to end soon, the gates will open and we’ll all be on our way home.”
The National Weather Service does not have any rain gauges at the exact spot where the festival takes place, but said the general area received between three-quarters of an inch to 1.5 inches (1.9-3.8 cm) of rain in the last 48 hours, based off radar estimates. Rainfall should end in the area Sunday evening or early on Monday.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages the land on which the event takes place, 110 miles north of Reno, said that “conditions are not expected to improve enough to allow vehicles to enter” the festival site.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, the White House said in a statement. Administration officials are monitoring the situation and are in touch with state and local officials.
(Reporting by Anna Tong in Black Rock City and Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Deborah Gembara in Washington and Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Paul Simao)