One person died at the Burning Man festival this weekend as a severe bout of rain caused flooding in the remote Nevada desert where the event was being held, authorities said. This comes as tens of thousands of attendees remained stranded Sunday. 

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office confirmed it is investigating the death in a news release issued Saturday, and said the family has been notified both of the death and the active probe. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office told CBS News on Sunday that the death occurred during the extreme rain that swept through parts of northwestern Nevada on Friday and Saturday, but not because of it. The earlier news release noted that the office “is currently investigating a death which occurred during this rain event.” 

Echoing the release, the spokesperson declined to share additional information about the death or circumstances surrounding it because the sheriff’s investigation was still ongoing.

burning man festival flooding
Tents between puddles and mud on the grounds of the “Burning Man” festival on Sept. 3, 2023, in the Nevada desert. Tens of thousands of visitors to the desert festival were stranded due to heavy rainfall. 

David Crane/picture alliance via Getty Images

The White House said Sunday that President Biden had been briefed on the flooding and “administration officials are monitoring the situation and are in touch with state and local officials.”

Officials urged Burning Man attendees to shelter in place on Saturday and Sunday after storms soaked the Black Rock Desert, a dried lake bed now composed of alkali flats that sits in a remote and arid section of northwestern Nevada, about 150 miles from Reno. The Burning Man entrance was shut down Saturday and would remain closed for the remainder of the event, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office tweeted. Anyone attempting to travel to the area would be turned around. 

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office noted Saturday that festival operations were being “halted or significantly delayed…due to unusual weather conditions on the playa.”

Roads in and out of the festival remained closed Sunday evening, and festival organizers urged attendees to conserve food, water and fuel. Cell phone equipment was also brought in to help those stuck in flooded campsites.  

burning man flooding
Camps are set on a muddy desert plain on Sept. 2, 2023, after heavy rains turned the annual Burning Man festival site in Nevada’s Black Rock desert into a mud pit. 

JULIE JAMMOT/AFP via Getty Images

About 73,000 people were stranded at Burning Man when the head count was tallied Saturday, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told CBS News. Some attendees were reportedly seen trudging through the muddy desert in efforts to leave the festival on foot, according to the Associated Press.

The organizers of Burning Man said in a statement Saturday night that people who decide to walk out of the desert would be provided bus transportation to Reno from Gerlach, which is about 15 miles from the site of Black Rock City. 

“Burning Man is a community of people who are prepared to support one another. We have come here knowing this is a place where we bring everything we need to survive. It is because of this that we are all well-prepared for a weather event like this,” the statement read.

“We have done table-top drills for events like this. We are engaged full-time on all aspects of safety and looking ahead to our Exodus as our next priority,” the statement continued. Exodus is how Burning Man refers to the end of the festival, when all attendees leave the desert.

“The Burning Man organization’s advice is for participants to delay their departures to avoid getting stuck in the mud, but people are free to leave should they choose to do so,” organizers said. 

On the Burning Man website, organizers said they were hoping to reopen roads by 9 a.m. local time Monday. 

“It was really, really wet and really, really slick,” stranded attendee Justin Schuman told CBS News of the muddy conditions in a video interview Sunday from his campsite. “But it’s also very alkaline. So you do have to be careful for no prolonged exposure of your skin to the mud because, apparently it can actually start to really, gently burn your skin.”

Schuman said he and his friends had enough supplies to make it through a few more days. 

“We are not allowed out of the playa, the gates are locked, we have enough tuna for a week,” said Christine Lee, a circus performer, on social media.

The area serves as the annual locale for Burning Man, a weeklong event that typically draws tens of thousands of people “to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance,” according to a passage in the “about” section on the festival’s website. Event organizers require attendees “to bring all you need to survive” to the desert, including food, water and shelter, which can be shared.

The Reno Gazette Journal reported Saturday that organizers started rationing ice sales and that all vehicle traffic at the sprawling festival grounds had been stopped, leaving portable toilets unable to be serviced.  

Burning Man
In this satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies, an overview of Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, on Aug. 28, 2023. 

Maxar Technologies via AP

The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office was coordinating with several agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and Burning Man Org, to assist attendees sheltering in place at the event site. The sheriff’s office spokesperson told CBS News on Sunday that “they are all working together to try to get everybody out of there safely,” at least in part using vehicles with four-wheel drive. It was unclear whether other transportation methods were being used too.

“There had been mild to heavy rain for several hours, causing conditions that made it virtually impossible for motorized vehicles to traverse the playa,” the sheriff’s office said in Saturday’s news release, adding that it supports Burning Man’s decision to order attendees to shelter in place and noting, “There is more rain forecast for the next few days which could cause further delays and disruptions for participants attempting to leave the Festival as well as other operations within the Festival.” 

In addition to small groups of people who were able to walk off the event site and were “awaiting transport” arranged by Burning Man at the time the release was issued, the office said “some vehicles have been able to drive off the playa, however, those vehicles have caused damage to the playa surface, and it is not recommended at this time.”


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