It got chilly about 3 AM, so I curled up in my sleeping bags and went back to sleep. It was after sunrise when I got up Saturday morning, the last day of August. I still had two more nights in the desert to go. Just when I got used to sleeping on Nevada time, the festival was almost over. The Sun was bright in the east. Billy and Spoon were in the bar, which was strewn with the remains of the annual game of flaming beer can baseball. The O on the HOTD sign had a big scorch mark on it. A DPW guy was sprawled out asleep on the big stuffed red dog. Somebody wrote something on his forehead with a Sharpie (considerately written backwards, so that he could read it in the mirror). As I talked with Spoon, our neighbor David from Shrunken Head Camp came over for some water. He’d had a issue with another guy in their camp, and that morning the other guy's big RV was gone.
There was a lot of activity at the airport. We could see plane after plane coming in. “Weekenders,” Spoon explained. “Millionaires coming in for the burn.” One private plane was so big it looked like a B-25. All the 16 oz. cups I brought for the bar were gone. I should’ve brought more. The Halloween sippy cups I brought were all gone, too. Back in my tent, I noticed it was still shady and cool and the sleeping bag was very comfortable… My own snoring woke me up. It was mid-morning, and I must’ve slept for a couple of hours. I almost never sleep after the Sun comes up.  I turned on my phone, and got another text message. Texts were coming in, but I couldn’t send anything out.
In the bar, Blurose and Sweets were talking to a stunning blonde girl in a black dress. The drunk guy was gone. It was still too early for lunch in the commissary, so I took some postcards over to the post office in Center Camp. It was the last day to mail letters and get them postmarked Black Rock City. The guy at the post office said the stock my postcards were printed on was “too thin.” He suggested mailing them at one of the branch offices, at the 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock portals. So, I rode all the way over to the 3 o’clock post office. The guy in front of me had three things to mail, so the clerk gave him three letters addressed to people in various camps all over the city. It was his job to deliver them, in return for getting his stuff mailed. I was looking at spending all day delivering mail when a second window opened up. The second clerk was so impressed with my homemade postcards that he took my outgoing mail—on the condition I bring more postcards next year to give away. I heartily agreed.
I picked up the latest Beacon, which said the city hit its cap of 68,000 people on Friday. As a result, the Gate was only letting people in whenever someone left the city, 1-in-1-out. As of Friday morning, there were 190 vehicles waiting to enter the city. The Beacon also predicted an 11-12 hour wait in line for Exodus. If anybody needed to be anywhere on Monday, the paper recommended leaving the city immediately, before the Man burned Saturday night. It was starting to get dustier out.
Back in camp, Brian was upset because somebody stole his bike! Even more upsetting was that it was parked right in the middle of camp! Somebody had to come into the maze of vehicles and tents to take it away, a disturbing thought. By then, it was noon, so I went to the commissary for lunch: chicken tenders and mashed potatoes. I got an extra plate so that I could go back for salad, but I was just too full. The lady that took my meal ticket confirmed that there would be a meal Monday evening, when I got off my last shift. I wondered what the Exodus line would really be like Monday evening.
Back in the bar, Otis was serving up finger-sized, vodka-shot-filled plastic fetus dolls. You got to the vodka by chopping the fetus doll in half with a meat cleaver. The little white fetuses had a variety of flavors, but Otis said, “The black ones taste like watermelon” --as if the whole thing could be more offensive. One woman laughed, “How bad can you get?” Janie was helping out in the bar. Sandy liked the Flat Branch Brewery shirt I was wearing. My beard needed trimming. I was starting to feel shaggy. The Captain shared some bagels and cream cheese.
The sky was hazy at 1 PM. There was a good crowd in the bar. The thermometer said it was close to 100 degrees out, too hot to do much of anything but sit in the shade and listen to music. Around back, Ollie came back from the med tent with a case of walking pneumonia. They gave him some antibiotics. He said three people had to be airlifted out of the city that Friday. By 3 PM, the dust was really picking up. The weather had been great all week, but now it was really starting to look like the Black Rock Desert. The wind even had a chill to it. Billy shared some bacon he cooked up. I saw Tigger, who stopped in for a visit.
I brought knee and elbow pads for Sandman duty, but I couldn’t find one of the elbow pads. After tearing the tent apart, I finally found it in the van… but then, I lost it again! I felt so dumb. I went to the bar, feeling dumb and angry with myself, when somebody yelled my name. It was Raven! I met her at the Gateway burn in Missouri that summer. She looked surprised to see me. When I came out in front of the bar, she ran up and gave me a full-body hug, wrapping her arms and legs around me. It was really good to see her.
I got dressed for my shift (minus the stupid elbow pads). HQ was full of Rangers when I arrived. I was in line to check in and talking with the Ranger ahead of me when someone saw my Green Dot patch and pulled me out of line. A participant was having a bad day and needed someone to walk him over to Sanctuary. By the time I got back, the line was twice as long. Duney came up and said he might need me as a Green Dot for one of the quadrants. I told him I’d go wherever he needed me. The Sandmen were assembling in the Hatrack, next to HQ. That’s were we got our new armbands. A quick head count told us just how stretched-out we would be. The Man base was huge, which meant the perimeter would be huge: 400 feet in diameter, 100 feet bigger than any other perimeter. That meant the Rangers working the perimeter would be stretched thin. Also, there had never been an elevated Man base before. Nobody was really sure what would happen when it was set on fire. It was shaping up to be an interesting burn.
We followed the other Rangers for the march to the Man. The scale of the Man base just kept getting bigger as we approached. The safety perimeter around the man was coded L3K. That was where the perimeter Rangers would be stationed. We helped clear everybody out and moved bicycles out of the way. Legba made assignments, but Duney pulled me out to be the Green Dot at the 12 o’clock position. That happened to be where the BLM had their cars set up. (We got to photobomb their group photo.) I liked that their police dogs wore dust goggles. I met up with Rangers Hindsight, Komack and Ticktock, and shook hands with Apparatus as he drove by in a golf cart, the Batsignal balloon attached to the back. 
The Sun fell behind the western mountains. Roadrash came by to check on me. I was still a Sandman, but as a Green Dot I felt like I should stay in one place, in case anybody needed me. He agreed, and said I could expand out from the L3K, pointing out where the line of fire dancers would end up. He told me to be on the lookout for any Sandmen signaling for help. I walked inward and spoke to Crystal, one of the fire dancers that would be performing in that quadrant. I told them I’d be joining them when the fireworks started. For that shift, I ended up being a Sandman, a Green Dot, and a perimeter Ranger. I was partnered with Shutterbug-- because every Ranger has a partner --but he was stationed at the 9 o’clock position, 100 yards away.
On post next to the BLM officers, I kept meeting up with clueless people who had no concept of a police “do not cross” line. I had to warn an entitled smoker about the open bucket of diesel fuel he hadn’t noticed. An art car called Serendipity parked at the outer end of the police line. I met a girl named Sierra, and warned her and her group that if the wind picked up, everything would come right at us. When darkness fell, the fire procession started up from Center Camp to the 6 o’clock position. They marched clockwise all along the perimeter. Some of the procession walked along on stilts, carrying torches, which was pretty amazing. By the time the procession made it all the way around back to 6 o’clock, it was time for the Man’s arms to rise. I thought, I would be in a great position to take pictures if I had brought a better camera.
The fire dancers moved out and put on a tremendous show. It never fails to astound me, see dozens and dozens of people juggling fire. When they were done, I waited until the dancers were settled down in a line a dozen or so yards inward from the perimeter. That was where I moved forward and repositioned myself. From my vantage point, I could see every Sandman in two quadrants. 
Flares went off up and down the Man’s limbs. Rockets went off, and huge sparklers erupted all along the edge of the flying saucer. As fireworks exploded overhead, I started feeling tiny fragments of debris falling down on my skin. I put on my dust goggles. I could see flickers of flame inside the structure. A gasoline bomb exploded into a fireball from inside the Man’s chest, followed by more explosions. When the base itself became engulfed in flames, the heat fell on us like a curtain. It was like the heat from an open stove, except this stove was a city block wide. 
I said to the fire dancers, “We might think about moving back—“ and just then, the wind brought a wave of hot, fiery embers straight at us. Behind me, people on the perimeter were quickly backing away as the fire dancers scrambled to their feet. I fell back to the BLM vehicles parked on the perimeter while many people disappeared back into the darkness. Chunks of flaming wood the size of paperback books were flying through the air. It was like a Midwestern hailstorm, except the sky was filled with hot, red embers. I’d always heard of a “rain of fire,” but I never thought I’d see one. It was a sight I will never forget as long as I live.
Something small and hot pinched me on the chest. It was an ember, burning through my shirt. I patted it out, and checked myself for more burns. People huddled next to the BLM vehicles, watching the blizzard of red, burning residue pour down on them.
The wind died down, and people carefully returned to the edge of the perimeter. The burning structure generated fire tornadoes, spinning away towards the crowd. Quickly, as I had suspected it would do, the structure collapsed in on itself, completely consumed by fire. Some shirtless guy ran out from the perimeter line towards the fire. He didn’t make it to the Sandman line, but circled back and disappeared into the crowd. “Not cool, man!” I yelled at him. I moved out towards the fire to help form the inner perimeter. The heat was tremendous, and the conflagration actually caused a slight backwards breeze as it pulled in oxygen from the surrounding air. I stood with my back to the fire, watching the crowd, the sea of faces before me mesmerized by the unbelievable sight.
When the last post fell, the signal was given, and the crowd rushed forward, dancing, laughing, running full tilt around the scorching flames. Our job was over. I found Shutterbug in the mass of humanity, and we made for the rally point. I found out there were two runners on the other side of the Man from me. Judas took one of them down, injuring himself when he landed on his water bottle. (Why didn’t anybody try to kill themselves on the downwind side of the fire? I guess they thought it was too dangerous.) When I checked out for the evening, I asked for a meal ticket, but I was told Sandmen didn’t get one because we didn’t work a full 6-hour shift. “Oh, okay,” I said, and walked back to HOTD.
I was all shook up, and literally trembling from the experience. I don’t normally drink whiskey, but I poured myself a shot to calm down. It didn't help. I sat down in the bar, music playing, people talking all around me... but feeling quite all by myself. I felt like I wanted to talk to someone, like maybe I needed to talk to someone, but everybody was busy. I walked around in the dark. A nice lady from the next camp gave me a cold beer, which was much appreciated. I ended up going to bed about midnight, my mind still buzzing.
Prologue  Aug. 21  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 3  Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6 & Epilogue
 BurningClam.Com       Original material (c)opyright 2013 by Tim Frayser 
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Last updated: September, 2013