Communication issues and concerns over thunderstorms and traffic jams caused some Burning Man attendees to miss what is considered one highlight of the weeklong art and music gathering in Nevada's Black Rock Desert: the Sunday night burning of a structure known as the Temple.
Many attendees of the festival extend their stay an extra day to see the Temple, an attraction introduced by artist David Best in 2000, burn on Sunday each year. Some liken the burning of the Temple, which is used as a pilgrimage site where people can leave messages, memorials and mementos to honor lost loved ones, to a religious experience, a stark contrast to the party mood surrounding the Saturday night burn of the gathering's namesake man structure.
This year, at some unknown point, a decision was made to burn the Temple at 8 p.m., apparently to ease anticipated traffic jams created by the throngs of people leaving Black Rock City, the makeshift community constructed to host Burning Man, after the event.
On Sunday, members of a volunteer safety force called the Black Rock Rangers canvased Black Rock City, warning citizens that a large thundershower was headed for the area on Monday at noon, and everyone should leave Sunday or be ready to get muddy and possibly stuck until the lake bed dried out.
Radio reports on a station dedicated to information about the festival spoke of the impending storm between nearly every song. Bureau of Land Management officers didn’t seem to be as concerned, saying there was only a 30 to 40 percent chance of a storm. What wasn’t being mentioned repeatedly on the radio was that the Temple was going to burn at 8 p.m. Sunday night, leaving those not in the know, out of luck, as every other burn in the week starts at 9 p.m. or later.
Around 8:20 p.m., a large fire could be seen from all over the city as the fire peaked, while art cars raced down the streets and people of foot or bikes stopped where they were to catch a slight glimpse before the building collapsed moments later.
Instead of talking about the beauty of the burn, attendees were asking why that they had missed it and how did others find out that the burn was scheduled for 8 p.m.
One person who had gone out to watch the sunset at the Temple said the burn was the least attended they’d ever seen, with only a few rows of people in position by the time the wooden structure was ignited.
The line to leave Black Rock City was consistently six to eight hours or more between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday. Many attendees asked wondered what difference having the Temple burn at 8 p.m. really made in traffic easing, compared to the huge difference in experience the change made for those who stayed but missed it, not knowing it was at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.
Still, the six to eight-hour wait to leave the site was much shorter than reported delays of up to 12 hours experienced by people trying to get into the city on Monday, when Burning Man organizers have more control over the traffic flow. Some were also left waiting at the gate for people to leave on Friday morning before they could come in due to the city reaching peak population.
On Monday, weather reports still said there was a 20 percent chance of thundershowers, though the city was nearly empty at that point.