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Burning Man resolves population issue, re-admitting event-goers after overselling event

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/2/2018 Jennifer Kane
a group of people standing in front of a large crowd of people: Burners participate in the annual Billion Bunny March at Burning Man on Thursday August 29. 2018. © Andy Barron/RGJ, Burners participate in the annual Billion Bunny March at Burning Man on Thursday August 29. 2018.

The Burning Man organization reports that the population of Black Rock City has dipped below 70,000, allowing it to again admit Burners more freely into the event. 

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Thursday asked organizers to shut down the entry after organizers allowed the event to swell past its population limit, breaking the rules of their permit, according to BLM spokesman Kyle Hendrix. 

Burning Man's population cap is 70,000 paid participants. As of Friday, the population at the Black Rock Desert event had risen to 70,358, according to the BLM.  While the Burning Man organization did not break the law, it violated the terms of its multimillion-dollar federal permit and is subject to penalties, Hendrix said. 

During the period of non-compliance, Burning Man organizers were only allowed to admit a participant if another left. It is unclear for how long the organization was not in compliance. 

While tens of thousands of Burners have been on-site since the celebration began last weekend, many Burners arrive just before the Man burns.  And they still have to pay full price, which can be anywhere from $425 to $1,200.  

Authorities on Friday did not know how many Burners were denied entry, or had to wait to enter, as a result of the entry issues. 

The excess population was a concern because of the potential for degradation to the Black Rock Desert playa, a national conservation area run by the BLM. The population limit also determines the number of law enforcement and emergency response services at the event, Hendrix said. 

"Any departure from the population cap could result in unknowns," said Hendrix.

The Burning Man organization always manages ticket sales to "facilitate as many people as possible having access to the event," said Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham in an email late Friday. 

"Similar to many events, the number of tickets sold may exceed the maximum allowable number of people at any one time, since each year a certain percentage of tickets go unused and because everyone is not on site at the same time," Graham said.

"We sold fewer tickets to the 2018 event than the previous year, and the population limit was never exceeded in 2017. This week's good weather and a desire in our community to honor and celebrate our recently passed founder Larry Harvey are two of the factors we believe contributed to participants arriving earlier and staying longer." 

Harvey died on April 28 after he suffered a stroke several weeks before. He was 70.

If there are further population surges, it will be up to the Burning Man organization to coordinate additional emergency services Saturday to monitor the Man burn, the massive bonfire for which the event is named. Last year, 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell died after running into the fire, which already resulted in plans for increased staffing around the burn this year. The same will apply to the burning of the Temple, another massive structure, on Sunday. 

This is the second time in recent years that Burning Man has exceeded its population limits, according to Hendrix. The event hosts more than 9,000 additional volunteers, staff, contractors and vendors on-site, none of whom are counted in the population cap, Hendrix said. 

The event officially concludes Sept. 3. 



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