The official Burning Man may be cancelled this year, but the gathering’s principles of radical self-reliance and expression are perhaps engrained too deeply to let even an official cancellation completely stop the celebration. According to officials at the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the space where the event usually takes place, roughly 10,000 people will end up descending upon Black Rock City for a renegade event, and they’ve already started as early as August 20.
Normally, the public lands are available to use year-round with a 14-day limit, but due to COVID-19, restrictions have been placed on that free-use until October 31. However, as Billboard notes, those restrictions aren’t doing much to curb the free spirits of Burners who would have missed out on yet another year of the gathering. To add fuel to the Burn, fires raging nearby at Lake Tahoe has smoke “drifting across California, Montana, Nevada and beyond. On Aug. 25, CNN reported that smoke from the Caldor Fire was creating the worst air quality in the country in Reno, Nevada,” just two hours south of Black Rock City.
Because of the restrictions on gatherings in place, and the thick smoke blanketing the sky, this year’s renegade event looks and will look much different than the usual spectacle of lights, lasers, RVs, and of course, the burning of the Man. Even porta-potties and medical services will be absent, making this event potentially dangerous in the summer heat as well as filthy for the Bureau of Land Management crew to pick up after.
(That being said, another one of the event’s principles is “Leaving No Trace,” so hopefully that is adhered to as strongly as the principles that brought this renegade together in the first place.)
“[Heather O’Hanlon, Public affairs specialist at Winnemucca District Office Bureau of Land Management], says Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement is working with Humboldt, Pershing and Washoe County Sheriff’s Offices to provide law enforcement and safety measures this week on the playa — Black Rock Desert’s dry lakebed,” Billboard reports. “‘Free Burn’ attendees are also being advised to take extra precautions around theft, given that no tickets are required for the event and there is thus no one controlling who comes on and off the site.”