Every year at the end of August nearly 70,000 people descend on Black Rock Desert in Pershing County, Nevada to take part in the celebration of radical self expression known as Burning Man.
And for many people it’s synonymous with drug use and burning a giant wooden man in the middle of the desert. But according to the Bureau of Land Management — which has jurisdiction over government land and the Burning Man festival grounds in particular — the number of people cited or arrested is quite low for its size and duration.
In 2013 only 6 people out of 69,613 were arrested and 433 more were cited by law enforcement, according to statistics from BLM provided to the Government Attic. (Note: Government attic is a great resource for FOIAs and government info alike.) That covers the five days leading up to Burning Man, the event itself and five days afterward.
The size of the gathering would make it the 5th largest city in Nevada and in comparison crime at Burning is pretty low, according to Gene Seidlitz, manager for the Winnemucca district of the BLM.
|Year||Burning Man Pop.||BLM officers||Drug citations||Total citations||Arrests|
He said while in its early days there were deaths and more arrests the event has evolved into a well-organized festival complete with proper permits and safety guidelines — especially for the fire events.
“Although there are arrests and injuries and in the past deaths I think this is a very safe event and managed well with good oversight by the BLM,” Seidlitz said.
The key to keeping the event organized and safe is the extensive communication between event organizers and the BLM, according to Eric Boik, state chief ranger for the BLM for Utah, which oversees the law enforcement activities of the event.
“It’s because we all get to the table and communicate frequently and the planning for this starts for 2014 in December so we are already working hot and heavy,” Boik said.
He added the event encourages self-reliance and all the festival participants clean up everything they bring with them as part of a “leave no trace” culture.
“Everything is cleaned up as if the event never occurred,” he said.
Burning Man continues to grow — from a few hundred people 30 years ago to 51,515 in 2010 and up to 69,613 in 2013. The 2014 festival has a permit for 70,000 people and that is probably the maximum the event can host, according to the BLM.
The agency worked on an environmental impact statement that put the maximum number of festival-goers — no including law enforcement or festival organizers — at 70,000, according to Seidlitz.
As for the wooden man that is burned every year?
“It’s quite a site,” Seidlitz said.