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September 04, 2000 01:31am
Weather Cooperates for Burning Man Festival
Source: AP
by: Martin Griffith

(RENO, NV) -- The weather took a turn for the better over the weekend on the Northern Nevada high desert, just in time for more than 25,000 revelers to enjoy the climax of the 15th annual Burning Man celebration.

After heavy rain and high winds plagued the counterculture festival earlier in the week, the weather cleared for Saturday night's ceremonial torching of a 52-foot-high wooden man for whom the event is named.

Participants from at least 40 states and 20 countries cheered loudly and danced after the giant bonfire was set on the Black Rock Desert 120 miles north of Reno. A spectacular fireworks display and laser-light show followed.

``It was insane,'' said celebrant Cara Farnsworth, 19, of Chicago. ``Everybody is either in costume or naked. There's lots of colors, lots of light and lots of fire. It made all the bad weather worth it.''

``It was overwhelming,'' added Benjamin Rush, 27, of Colorado Springs, Colo. ``You name it, there was more for just one person to take in. I only wish I had better drugs.''

The Mardis Gras-like celebration began in San Francisco in 1986 and moved to the Nevada desert in 1990. It combines wilderness camping and an offbeat mix of art and music in a surreal 5-square-mile encampment known as Black Rock City.

Other than the weather, law enforcement agencies reported no major problems at the weeklong festival billed as a celebration of art and radical self-expression.

Unlike last year, there were no reports of major traffic jams as participants began heading home Sunday. About half of the revelers weren't expected to leave until Monday.

There were at least 45 arrests during the week, but no details were available.

At least two participants, struck by objects, suffered head injuries and had to be flown to a Reno hospital. Other participants escaped injury when their vehicles hit cows on a highway leading to the site.

Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell said the crowd peaked at just under 26,000. Last year's festival drew about 24,000 people.

Heavy rain pelted the festival Friday night. High winds kicked up huge dust clouds off and on all week, and jeopardized Saturday night's extravaganza. Although the winds later died down, temperatures remained cool.

The anything-goes event features games and activities, including an X-rated miniature golf course and a parade by members of both sexes who march in women's lingerie.

Personal drug use is tolerated, but not drug sales. Clothing is optional.

``The coolness cut down on the nudity, but it didn't cut down on people having a great time,'' said Don Lawson, a store owner in nearby Empire. ``There was a lot of energy out there.''

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