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Q and A

Below are a list of some of the common questions about Burning Man 2001 we received after the event.

Q: Why was it so dusty this year? I've been coming for several years and I've never seen it like it was in 2001!
A: Of course, the playa dust is a part of the experience, but this year's event saw some of the most dust it has ever had. The rainfall over last winter and spring in the Black Rock Desert was below normal. When a year passes without enough post-winter rainfall and flooding, it results in a condition known as "frost bloom". During winter, the moisture on the playa surface freezes and thaws and freezes repeatedly, creating a fluffy mix of playa, ice, and air. When a spring passes with no substantial rains or flooding, there's nothing to compact the solidified, aerated soil structure back down from this fluffy state. This means that instead of the usual hard-packed playa, the first few inches of crust are easily transformed into clouds of dust by the wind -- especially after it gets walked and driven and kicked up by 26,000 participants.

This is why you saw so many water trucks in BRC this year, watering the roads to compact the soil. The increased effort helped keep a bad situation from being a lot worse, but we all look to next year with a keen eye on this winter's weather, and we hope for a lot more rainfall in 2002.

Another issue that contributed to the dust was the orientation of the gate road, in relation to the wind as it moves across the city. The city plan is being assessed to consider the gate road's placement to best address this issue and still provide efficient access to the city and correspond with the guidelines of our permit.

Q: With all the hassle and BLM fees, why don't we just buy a chunk of land with that money, and make our own rules?
A: The location of our event is determined by certain geographic parameters. We need to be sufficiently close to the infrastructure of a large urban center in order to maintain a lifeline of supplies and services. On the other hand, we need to be sufficiently distant from dense populations in order to avoid being overwhelmed by gatecrashers and casual tourists. Any site we occupy must also have an access road that will accommodate a heavy flow of traffic. Lastly, we need to be reasonably close to San Francisco, our year-round headquarters. These factors narrow our choices.

Most importantly, however, Burning Man needs a playa. Forested lands, grassland, or the fragile sagebrush ecosystem of the desert are not suitable for a fire festival. The blank and lifeless slate afforded by a playa also allows us to annually refashion our city without disturbing the environment. This freedom is essential to our experiment in temporary community. Unfortunately, however, no one, apart from us, has ever really wanted to own a playa. Most of Nevada is administered by the BLM, and all of its playas, with the exception of certain Native American lands, are controlled by the federal government.

Even if a privately held playa were available, the choice of our event site is also dictated by politics. While it might seem that buying or renting private land for the event would eliminate certain problems, it could easily create new ones. If we moved our event to a private site, we would be more subject to a specific county's jurisdiction. Unlike the BLM, rural counties have no mandate to facilitate public recreation, and local politics do not always guarantee a fair hearing. We would, in fact, be subject to a more insular and, potentially, more volatile political process. A county government or tribal council could arbitrarily create any number of ordinances and requirements that might affect the nature, the operating costs, or the very feasibility of the event. It is more difficult to imagine the entire federal system creating brand new regulations to restrict events such as ours. The BLM is answerable to broader constituency and its regulations guarantee a more transparent public process.

Q: How many people came to Burning Man this year?
A: Saturday, September 1st's noon population count was 25,600. Population probably swelled to somewhere around 26,000 just before the burn.

Q: What were those big tornado-looking things at the Burn?
A: The JRS Office of Irreproducible Phenomena has a possible explanation for the procession of fire whirls spinning off the 2001 Burning of the Man.

Fire whirls are rotating columns of air laden with fine, loose soil. The initiating factors are complex, but the key component in maintaining a dust devil is a supply of hot air near the ground surface.

At its peak, the Burning of the Man heated the immediately surrounding atmosphere and ground surface, and created a column of rising hot air. Light winds passing around the base of the Man formed vortices of hot air in its wake. The vortices sustained themselves while close to the Man, gradually dying when blown downwind beyond the Burn perimeter. We think the significant factor this year was a much greater amount of hot-burning wood fuel at the base of the Man.

Q: I saw cars driving on the playa that barely looked to me like they qualified as "art cars". Sunday night, the city had tons of vehicles driving around. I'm concerned about people's safety, since BRC is supposed to be a pedestrian city. What exactly is the DMV's policy governing art cars?
A: BRC is indeed a city intended for bikes and pedestrians, not for motorized vehicles. As is stated in the Survival Guide, the expectation is that you will drive your car to your camp and park it there during your stay. The exception to this has always been art cars/motorized art, which contribute to the city's aesthetics and the feeling of participation.

However, it is important to remember one basic fact: this exception to our motor vehicle rules is about creating art and participating. It is not about sticking a few pieces of tinsel on a scooter or car just so one can get to bianca's a little bit faster.

To qualify as an art car, vehicles must be PERMANENTLY modified. There have been detractors to this policy, who complain that it is not fair for the DMV staff to judge what is and is not art. But, in order to keep the total number of motorized vehicles down, and keep BRC's streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists, we feel these strict guidelines are a necessity. In response to ever-more crowded roads, we can expect to see the rules governing art cars continue to be even further refined. The safety and convenience of those on foot and on bikes has the greatest priority. You can find the full information on the DMV's policies here.

Q: What happened to the Jiffy Lube sign?
A: The artists who made the sign were threatened with a pornography citation by the Pershing County Sheriff's office, who reported that there had been a complaint from the community. Rather than accept the citation, the artists and camp organizers opted to remove it from its position outside their camp. Larry Harvey has written a document outlining the incident and explaining Burning Man's position on the matter.

If you read the AfterBurn 2001 Report and you still have unanswered
questions, please address them to the correct department where applicable, or send an email to afterburn.