Week 10: Safety Third

The man in the orange protective jumpsuit spoke up for a third time: “This is going to be 10,000 gallons of propane fuel exploding. It’s not going to be over quickly. For 26 seconds, you are going to feel a continuous burn, like holding your hand over a bic lighter. Do not try to run away; there are lots of people and bicycles behind you. If you need to, stand and slowly turn your body, like a rotisserie cooker. At no time are you to run towards the flame!” I glanced around at my neighbors in the crowd; no one looked particularly eager to test the boundaries after that lengthy warning.

The final days of the Burning Man Festival were progressing in dramatic fashion, as usual. Tens of thousands had gathered this evening into a massive ring surrounding a hundred-foot wooden oil derrick, lured by the promise of a thousand-foot mushroom cloud. The art installation was entitled “Crude Awakening” and featured eight giant steel figures bowing in supplication to their beloved oil rig. For four nights, the hearts, eyes and hands of the thirty-foot sculptures pulsed with living fire, and from the platform atop the derrick one could gaze down upon schools of glowstick-lit bicycles and neon art cars as they streamed across the darkness of the playa, traversing between the distant night clubs of Black Rock City. But now the pyrotechnics were shut down, and from the safety perimeter, people waited impatiently for the biggest explosion ever attempted at Burning Man.

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