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Festival of Fire Draws Record Crowd

Unlike last year's event, no major accidents are reported as 35,500 revelers turn out for Burning Man 2004 in the Nevada desert.

September 06, 2004|From Associated Press

BLACK ROCK DESERT, Nev. — A record 35,500 costumed revelers ritually burned a 40-foot neon-and-wooden icon of a man and began leaving the Black Rock Desert north of Reno on Sunday.

The 19th annual Burning Man festival, a counterculture event in one of the most remote places in America, was relatively uneventful after a series of tragedies a year ago.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Jamie Thompson said the event ran smoothly, with no major accidents. Drug arrests and citations also were down, preliminary reports showed.

Last year, two people died and four were hospitalized with injuries from accidents involving aircraft or the "Mad Max"-style "mutant vehicles" that roam the desert gathering.

Participants who remained an extra day were set to burn an elaborate Temple of Stars on Sunday night, laid out in a quarter-mile crescent even farther into the desert.

For many, torching the temple has become the centerpiece of the annual burn, a more intimate, spiritual event than the rave-party-like immolation of the man icon.

"There's no comparison to last year. This is the best one yet," said Wendy "Rebel Barbie" Wright, 37, of Reno, referring to the latest temple creation by artist David Best.

It took thousands of man-hours to build the illuminated temple mainly from lace-like filigrees of plywood. Builders started construction four months ago in Petaluma, before trucking the components into the desert aboard flatbed trucks.

By tradition, participants leave the names of departed loved ones and other remembrances to be burned.

Many visitors cried while composing their gifts, and some collapsed into the arms of others.

"To burn it, it's like giving it to a higher force. It's like an offering," said Fred Dickson, who helped build the temple.

"It's an emotional experience," said Silvie of San Diego, who gave only her first name. "There's a reverence here."

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