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Exclusive Chopper 5: Travel out of Burning Man challenging as desert ground turns to mud

Sep 3, 2023, 12:20 PM | Updated: 4:31 pm

BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nevada — Aerial footage of the Burning Man counterculture festival showed scores of cars leaving the festival on a soaked desert landscape, with many of the 70,000 stranded in mud after days of heavy rains.

Officials are also investigating reports of a death at the festival.

In footage obtained exclusively by KSL’s Chopper 5, the event’s camping community can be seen in a massed half-circle while some vehicles, including motorhomes, attempting to leave the muddy festival. AP reported Saturday that the entrance of the event was closed and would remain closed for the rest of the event.

The scheduled festival ends Monday, though it seemed a daunting task to get the thousands out facing muddy, wet conditions.

Aerial views confirmed reports from the festival that roads were opened for at least some people Sunday as the process of vacating the masses begins.

The festival typically hosts approximately 70,000 people. Ankle-deep mud in some spots made even walking and biking difficult, though many were facing walking out later.

People have many different types of camps, from tents to RVs to shipping containers,” Valerie Cameron, a Utahn at the festival said. “If you are in a tent you are probably miserable.”

“I have to say, people here are also really helpful to others,” Cameron said. “It’s a community. The main concern is keeping people safe and dry and fed.”

She said the festival has not burned “the man,” a massive human-shaped structure and night burning event that gives the festival its name. It started in 1986 when the founders burned a human sculpture. The festival grew in popularity and moved to the desert to accommodate interested crowds.

A wet and muddy Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada, on Sept. 2, 2023. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) KSL's Chopper 5 shows a van stuck in the mud at burning man. A procession of cars, campers, and trailers follows the car, all seeking to make it across the flooded section.  (KSL TV) Rainbows joined heavy rains at the 2023 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) Chopper 5 flew over those trying to move out of the Burning Man festival in the desert approximately 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. (Jay Hancock/KSL TV) Burning Man festival before rains poured in the Nevada desert, on Sept. 1, 2023. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) Burning Man festival before rains poured in the Nevada desert, on Sept. 1, 2023. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) A sculpture at Burning Man festival before rains poured in the Nevada desert, on Sept. 1, 2023. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) Chopper 5 flew over those trying to move out of the Burning Man festival in the desert approximately 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. (Jay Hancock/KSL TV) Small planes carried festival attendees over the 2023 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. Heavy rains turned much of the ground muddy. Sept. 2, 2023. (Courtesy Valerie Cameron) In this satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies, an overview of Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nev on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. (©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)

 

The gathering, located approximately 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada, called Black Rock City by the festival, received several inches of rain Friday with more falling Saturday into Sunday. Gerlach, a tiny Nevada town, is the closest city to the desert community event with a population of over 100, dwarfed by the desert gathering.

While many have RVs, visible from Chopper 5, others camp in tents at the festival, making for a potentially challenging experience with an AP-reported possible 6 inches of rain just on Friday. That’s a rain total in 24 hours that would be equal to what would typically fall in several months in the area.

The rain created washes of water and turned the desert surface into clay-like mud that is difficult to walk, bike and drive in. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office told CNN that most of the RVs were stuck in place. Walking to a paved or gravel road will connect attendees with buses, according to reports from inside the fest. It isn’t clear what will happen to the gear, bikes and vehicles left behind.

National Weather Service said the monsoonal moisture would continue to drop on Nevada Sunday with thunderstorms in the area that could bring rain, hail, wind and lightning.

Reports on social media stated that organizers told attendees to be responsible and conserve food and water. Some of the 10 principles of Burning Man, as listed on its website, are “Gifting” and “Radical Self Reliance” and “Communal Effort.”

AP reports DJ Diplo posted a video to Instagram on Saturday with comedian Chris Rock riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. Diplo said they had walked six miles through the mud before hitching a ride.

 

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Exclusive Chopper 5: Travel out of Burning Man challenging as desert ground turns to mud