Roads out of Burning Man might reopen today for tens of thousands still trapped after intense rain left the festival site smothered in mud

Sep 4, 2023, 11:00 AM

Attendees walk through a muddy desert plain on Saturday at the Burning Man festival site 	Nevada, S...

Attendees walk through a muddy desert plain on Saturday at the Burning Man festival site Nevada, September 2, 2023. (Julie JAMMOT/AFP/Getty Images)

(Julie JAMMOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Originally Published: 04 SEP 23 01:40 ET
Updated: 04 SEP 23 12:21 ET

(CNN) — Roads out of the Burning Man festival could reopen Monday for the estimated 72,000 people trapped for a third day in the Nevada desert after heavy rains smothered the grounds with ankle-deep mud too thick to drive on.

Roads leading in and out of the Black Rock City event were closed Saturday, and event organizers imposed shelter-in-place orders. Attendees were told to conserve food, water and fuel after the deluge made it virtually impossible for vehicles to drive on the surface, authorities said.

The remote area in northwest Nevada was hit with two to three months’ worth of rain – up to 0.8 inches – in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning. About 72,000 people remain on site, according to a Sunday night update from Burning Man organizers.

The weeklong festival is scheduled to end Monday, but it’s unclear exactly when attendees will be allowed to drive out of the area.

“Gate Road remains too wet & muddy for most vehicles to safely navigate out of BRC this morning, but is drying,” Burning Man organizers said Monday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The “Exodus” could begin around noon (3 p.m. ET) Monday, the organizers said. “We will update you again in the next few hours.”

Sunny and dry conditions over western Nevada on Monday will allow “significant improvement to the muddy conditions at the Burning Man festival,” CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. The high temperature is expected to reach about 75 degrees.

Diplo and Chris Rock trudge, then hitchhike

Some have already left the site by plodding through the thick mud, but “most of the RVs are stuck in place,” Pershing County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Nathan Carmichael said Sunday.

“Each step felt like we were walking with two big cinder blocks on our feet,” said Amar Singh Duggal, who managed to leave the festival with his friends after hiking about 2 miles in the mud.

Among those who trekked through the sludge was DJ Diplo, who spent hours hiking in the mud to try to get to his concert hours later in Washington, DC.

“I have some pretty strong leg muscles after that walk,” Diplo told CNN on Monday morning. He credited duct tape and good boots that “were like three pounds each at one point” for helping him walk miles.

Then a fan offered Diplo – real name Thomas Wesley Pentz – and comedian Chris Rock a ride.

“Some kid recognized me on the road and said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you a ride for the next two miles.’ And of course, we gladly took it.” Diplo said. He said he’s thanking the “awesome” young man with admission to shows.

The symbolic bonfire gets rescheduled

The burning of the man – the huge totem set on fire at the festival’s culmination – was rescheduled from Sunday night to Monday because of the poor weather, organizers said Sunday evening.

A death at the festival on Friday was “unrelated to the weather,” Burning Man organizers said Sunday night.

“Our emergency services department reached a call for service extremely quickly for a male, approximately 40 years old, and could not resuscitate the patient,” organizers said, without giving further details.

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the death.

Resources have been brought in from around northern Nevada to help people with medical needs on the event grounds, the sheriff’s office said.

Organizers also got more four-wheel-drive vehicles and all-terrain tires to help transport people with medical and other urgent needs.

Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis erected annually for the festival, comes complete with emergency, safety and sanitary infrastructure.

“We have done table-top drills for events like this,” festival organizers said. “We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety and looking ahead to our Exodus as our next priority.”

While some attendees adapt, others are ‘beside themselves’

Festivalgoers – accustomed to braving the Nevada desert’s extreme heat – have instead contended with rain and mud, rationing supplies and dealing with connectivity issues.

As roads in and out remain closed, attendees were stepping up and offering food and shelter to those who need it, festivalgoer Gillian Bergeron told CNN on Sunday.

“Most of the folks out there that go out somewhat regularly, they certainly made the best of it,” Bergeron said. “It’s a great community, people were helping each other offering food and water and shelter to those who needed it. If anything, I think it probably made the core community stronger.”

Another attendee stuck at the Burning Man, Andrew Hyde, said the weather has taken the meaning of the event back to its roots.

“You come out here to be in a harsh climate, and you prepare for that,” Hyde told CNN on Saturday.

Burning Man also described high morale among attendees who were sharing resources. “There is music playing, camp meals being shared, socializing, and walking around the playa to look at art and interact as a community,” organizers said in a Sunday night update.

There are, however, worries about when roads will open.

“People need to go back to their jobs, back to the responsibilities they have back home,” Hyde said.

Bergeron also saw people begin to grow concerned.

“There were certainly some people that were absolutely beside themselves and that were asking if their tickets would be reimbursed … they were missing their flights,” she said.

“It kind of just depended on their level of experience out there, their level of comfort out there and then potentially wherever they had to be come Monday or Tuesday morning.”

Still, the poor conditions have not stopped the creativity, first-time attendee Hannah Burhorn said.

“People are building mud sculptures,” she said Saturday evening.

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Roads out of Burning Man might reopen today for tens of thousands still trapped after intense rain left the festival site smothered in mud