TIMELINE: What is Burning Man? The festival's lengthy history has roots in San Francisco

ABC7 Bay Area Digital Staff Image
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
TIMELINE: Burning Man's lengthy history with roots in SF
What is Burning Man? Here's the history of the weeklong music and arts festival with roots in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Burning Man draws tens of thousands of people every September to the dry desert in Black Rock City, Nevada for a weeklong celebration of music, arts and community. The name "Burning Man" comes from its main ceremony: the symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy called the "Man."

Here's something you may not have known about the festival: it was started right here in the Bay Area.

1986: First Burning Man on Baker Beach in San Francisco

The festival started nearly 40 years ago.in June 1986 as a small ritual on Baker Beach in San Francisco with just 20 guests. They burned an 8-foot effigy called the "Burning Man."

The event launched a celebration of community, art, self-expression and self-reliance.

VIDEO: How stranded Burning Man festival attendee is coping with flood aftermath as more rain expected

About 70,000 people are stranded sheltering in place at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada.

1991: Move to Black Rock City, Nevada

Five years later, it was moved to its current location, Black Rock City in northwest Nevada. It still drew a relatively small crowd of just 250.

2000: More than 25,000 campers

By the year 2000, the crowd had grown to more than 25,000 campers and the "Burning Man" had grown to more than 50 feet tall.

2014: Largest Burning Man ever

In 2014, a 105-foot tall effigy was burned - the tallest ever. That year's event drew nearly 66,000 campers.

VIDEO: North Bay winery hosts Burning Man sculptures from canceled festival

Paradise Ridge Winery is hosting Burning Man sculptures from last year's cancelled event at its location in Santa Rosa.

2017: Camper killed in fire

Tragedy struck in 2017. A 41-year-old man threw himself into the flames of the burning monument. He died a day later.

2018-present: Larger crowds, smaller monument

From there, the size of the burned monument got smaller each year, but the crowd size did not, peaking at more than 79,000 guests in 2019.

2020: No in-person event

The in-person event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but about half a million people took part in a "burn week" online.

MORE: San Francisco supervisor calls for investigation into Saturday's 'unlawful' beach party on Ocean Beach

2023: Torrential rain, flooding leaves festivalgoers stranded;

The remote area in northwest Nevada was hit with two to three months' worth of rain - up to 0.8 inches - in just 24 hours between Friday and Saturday morning. About 72,000 people remain on site, according to a Sunday night update from Burning Man organizers.

Torrential rains have left attendees stranded as mud made it nearly impossible to leave. Attendees were asked to conserve food, water and fuel.

MORE: Burning Man organizers lift driving ban after heavy rains left the event smothered in mud

A 31-year-old man has been confirmed dead by the Pershing County Sheriff's Office. It is not known at this time if the death is related to the weather event.

As of Monday afternoon, event organizers officially lifted a driving ban and said "exodus operations have officially begun in Black Rock City."

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