HOWTO die at Burning Man

M Otis Beard sez, "You don't often hear about the deaths that happen at Burning Man. Here is an overview that just might save your life." Be that as it may, Black Rock City has extraordinarily low mortality compared to comparably populated/sized areas in the USA.


  1. You’d probably need to balance that out for somewhere with an equivalently young and wealthy population to have a useful comparison.


    1. Everyone whom I’ve known that’s gone to Burning Man has made about half the US median income.

        1.  There really isn’t an “age group” of BM regular attendees, although natch is does trend away from the over 55 set…So late teens to 40s would be my guess, pretty broad demo but certainly not all-encompassing

  2. Black Rock City has extraordinarily low mortality compared to comparably populated/sized areas in the USA.

    Perhaps if BRC stuck around for more than a few days, we’d see those rates come more into equilibrium.

    1. You have no idea what goes on out there. Here, let me educate you. Before the burn people are out there for months ple-planning and surveying, and building. After the event people are out there for months, cleaning, monitoring, and documenting. So- there goes your theory about a few days. Also, it’s 50,000 people at it’s peak, in a few mile area. That makes China look roomy.  Here: let me put another hole in your theory. The amount of citizens under the influence of (A) Drugs (B) Alcohol (C) Euphoria/endorphins (D) the control of something that shoots fire is nearly 100%. There’s a LOT more things that can potentially kill you in any given moment than in a normal city. The reality is Burning Man should have crazy tons more deaths and injuries. Yet- these drug-induced hippies somehow got organized and smart about “partying”  and created a community that both self polices and self-helps. What happened? All of those statistics and theories went to shit. People in the real world: “YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.” That’s what Burning Man is all about.

      1. “Also, it’s 50,000 people at it’s peak, in a few mile area. That makes China look roomy.”

        Huh? That’s not that many people for a few miles space. To put it in perspective, every football stadium in the country holds significantly more people then that in a smaller space.

        1.  Right, but they don’t usually bring tents, art installations, and case after case of booze with them into the stadiums now do they?  In terms of population density (as opposed to event attendance) that’s pretty high.  Boston is around 12,000 person per square mile.

  3.  Also, is that rate including, or excluding all the deaths that are caused/happen there, but don’t get declared until they hit Reno?

  4. It is obvious that Black Rock City’s demographics are very different from a “normal city” of that size, but that works both ways – the population is generally well-off and well-prepared, but at the same time are engaging in far more risky behavior (of pretty much every kind you could list).

    The two big reasons the mortality is so low is that people do a very good job of taking care of one another in times of need, and the veritable army of medical volunteers. Most people think of the place as just a big anarchy zoo, but the Emergency Services team (run by volunteers) is huge, well funded, and extremely effective. Most responses are less than 5 minutes, and there are three main areas with clinic facilities. Last year there was even a field hospital that could set bones and take X-rays. The fire-fighting capacity exceeds that of most municipal departments, including the use of a jet-truck that most airports would be proud to own. If that sounds cool, you should volunteer and come play with our toys.

    1. I think of it as an anarchy zoo run skillfully by some of the smartest people in the world, who are all in a good mood (more or less).

    2. No cars to crash. That is huge, for the demographic. Now as they age, they’ll drop dead more often.

  5. “Happily, we don’t get a lot of murders at Burning Man (rape is another matter; they are depressingly frequent out there).”

    But I thought everyone takes care of each other…?

    1. Pretty sure there has never been a murders at all in the history of Burning Man. As for rapes, unfortunately there is no rule preventing the occasional fratboy or creeper to come “for the tits and drugs.” Those fuckers are an anti-thesis to the spirit and general vibe of the Burning Community, but they still show up.  Unfortunately, rape is something humans still do for some reason. Burning Man isn’t going to stop all of them. Especially since Burning Man itself creates an environment that allows jerkoffs to take advantage of people more easily, than say in your downtown club. 99.9999999% of people take care of eachother, OK?

  6. A friend of mine was got burned at Burning Man back in the early days.  Some piece of fire art equipment exploded (I forget the details; I think it was propane or something.)  A medical evacuation helicopter to Reno cost him about $6K.   He recovered fine; IIRC the burns were over a wide area but not very deep.

    1. That’s the thing about Burning Man. All the stuff is built by people who may or may not know what they’re doing. It really pays to be an engineer so you can do a quick mental assessment of “how far away from this art piece should I stand to avoid being maimed.”

      1.  From my experience, the level of engineering and construction of things is above average, and blows away a lot of real world versions. These people who make these things are artists passionate about their work. They don’t just throw crap together with duct tape. OK I take that back, they totally do sometimes, but anyway I’m surprised at some of the crap people build out there. Like this:

  7. “Rumor has it that a number of people saw Barley’s corpse hanging on a rope, and thought it was art.”

    Might not be such a problem in some other context. I’m not trying to weigh in on the whole Burning Man casualty rate issue. I know it’s nothing compared to Chicago on an average day. It’s just…

    To me, it poignantly encapsulates something about the post-modern mentality. People would rather let something terrible happen than be a sucker to anybody else’s hijinks.

    1. People would rather let something terrible happen than be a sucker to anybody else’s hijinks.

      A female lifeguard who watched as an eight-year-old boy drowned in front of her thought he was ‘messing around’ when she spotted him floating face down in the pool… The court heard Suraj had been submerged face-down in the pool for one-and-a-half minutes before Woods finally dived in. Giving evidence yesterday, Woods said before she jumped in she asked two young swimmers to poke Suraj to check if he was ‘messing around’. She said: ‘I asked the girls to check if he was okay. I asked them to poke him to see if he was all right. I thought he was messing around at first. That’s what children do.’

  8. What’s scary is I had not one, but two plane rides in 2003. In 2002 I thought it would be a good idea to bring an art car bigger than a school bus. Boy, was that a pain in the ass. Took like 14 people to safely drive it across the Playa. An art car is both the most wonderful and scary thing you can be in charge of, in the chaos that is the Burn.

  9. I can tell you unequivocally and for sure that the thing about the org hushing up murder and rape is entirely untrue. 

    (However, you’ll notice nobody ever demands that any other event be held accountable for traffic accidents on the way to/from them. When have you heard anyone suggest the NFL should count in its medical statistics a ticketholder’s death on the way to the Super Bowl?)

    Of course it’s not a bullet point in the Survival Guide — “You might get murdered or raped” is a general condition of life around other people and has nothing to do with the event, any more than “You might trip over your shoelaces and break your neck” does.

  10. Glastonbury festival in the UK is said to have had more births than deaths.  I can’t seem to find a source for that right now though.

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