Burning Man exodus begins after 72,000 attendees stranded at rain-soaked festival

A person walks in the mud at the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, on Sunday after heavy rains in the normally dry location created deep, heavy mud conditions that made much of the area impassible and stranded thousands of attendees. The roads into and out of the area reopened Monday. Photo by Diana Jensen/EPA-EFE

Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of attendees, stranded at this weekend's rain-soaked Burning Man music and culture festival in northern Nevada, began their "exodus" Monday as conditions improved.

As the roads into and out of Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert reopened, after closing over the weekend due to heavy rainfall and mud, organizers were asking many of the 72,000 festival-goers to stick around until Tuesday to ease traffic.

"Exodus is planned to officially begin around midday today," festival organizers said in a statement Monday. "Consider delaying your departure from Black Rock City until Tuesday 9/5. This will alleviate large amounts of congestion throughout the day today."

"The exodus of 72,000 participants from Burning Man 2023 is anticipated to begin today at noon," Washoe Sheriff wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Visitors will be returning to their homes, both locally and in far-reaching locations, using various modes of transportation, including vehicles and planes."

Heavy rains Friday and Saturday prompted shelter-in-place orders at the massive camp-out, which ran from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4, in the Black Rock Desert. The desert received two to three months' worth of rain in a 24-hour period, according to event officials who said the dry, hard ground was unable to absorb water, creating runoff and mudflows.

Event organizers advised festival-goers to "shelter in place" and prohibited all vehicles from driving into the muddy playa -- a move that the Pershing County Sheriff Office said it supported -- as torrential rains transformed the typically hard desert surface into a sea of mud, making travel nearly impossible.

Organizers also indicated buses were being provided to take attendees who chose to walk off the playa to Reno, although they were advised to check recommendations on "when walking is viable or not."

Attendees, who had no cellphone service, were also told to conserve food, fuel and water. Mobile cell trailers were deployed to "strategic positions" to help provide Internet service "sometime Saturday evening."

On Sunday, organizers confirmed that officers were investigating a man's death, adding that the death was unrelated to the weather.

Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen confirmed the death in a statement Sunday, stating that the victim's family had been notified.

Organizers said emergency services were called to help the man, who was believed to be about 40 years old, but he could not be resuscitated.

Late Sunday, roads into and out of Burning Man remained closed as most of the festival's operations were halted amid continued heavy rainfall that stranded the attendees.

As the precipitation continued Sunday, the National Weather Service in Reno placed portions of the area under a "marginal risk" of isolated severe thunderstorms, including heavy rains, frequent lightning, gusty winds and hail to 1-inch diameter.

The Pershing County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Land Management closed the entrance to Burning Man for the remainder of the event, until conditions improved.

While festival-goers were finally allowed to leave Monday afternoon, the last day of the festival, the namesake "man burn" where attendees burn a large wooden structure was rescheduled to Monday night.