Visitors to the Burning Man festival are really getting to live out their Mad Max dreams this year. But it isn’t so much post-apocalyptic as it is just apocalyptic. Dust storms and a heat wave ensured that it was going to be a rough event from the beginning, and now an enormous wildfire has shut down the main road that accesses the week long celebration.
Attendees have been gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada since Sunday to install art projects, construct camps, fire up sound systems and, ya know, burn. Within days of their arrival, dust storms started kicking up, prompting a temporary closure of the main gates out of safety concerns.
These types of storms are a semi-common occurrence at the festival that attracts 70,000 people each year. But the heat this time around will be exceptional. “A lot more will be burning than just the wooden figure,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Deutschendorf told the San Francisco Chronicle. Forecasts predict this could be the hottest iteration of the event ever. Temperatures will be in the upper 90s until the weekend when they’re expected to hit 102 degrees. According to Deutschendorf, historical temperature records show the last time there was a multi-day heat wave in the region was in 1949. And the only time temperatures topped 100 degrees during a festival day was on Aug. 30, 2007.
Anyone who wants to escape the oppressive heat is going to have a difficult time, however, because the Nevada State Department of Transportation announced late on Wednesday that it was closing down traffic in both directions on Nevada 447, the main route into the gathering. Emergency measures are being followed as the Tohakum 2 Wildfire has spread closer to the Burning Man grounds.
The high temperatures and dry conditions didn’t help when a lightning strike sparked the initial fire on Tohakum Peak northeast of Pyramid Lake on Tuesday evening. The Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tracking the fire’s progress on Twitter. At the moment, the agency says that it has spread over 30,000 acres and is at zero percent containment. “Burning Man is a major safety concern on Nevada State Route 447 [and] there is potential for the fire to progress toward the Burning Man event area,” the BLM wrote on its incident tracking website. “High voltage electrical transmission lines have been damaged,” and “Structures are threatened.”
But even in a worst case scenario, we probably shouldn’t expect a Fyre Festival-style meltdown. Though rich tech bros from Silicon Valley make the pilgrimage each year, there are plenty of regular Joes out there, and coming prepared is essential for an event that doesn’t allow traditional commercial exchanges. An impromptu airport built just for the occasion shuttles around 800 takeoffs and landings each year, so the wealthy will be just fine. The rest will probably just have a story to tell about how much extra burning went down this year. But those who haven’t arrived yet are enduring some unexpected derailments.
Authorities are monitoring the situation and keeping everyone up to date, and you can see a livestream of what’s going down right here.