Open Fire Guidelines

Open fire projects can be as large as the Temple or as small and intimate as a fiery urn in the depths of the open playa. Fire can be a great way to bring folks together on a chilly playa night or to send your artwork to the spirits in a final fiery conflagration.

Open Fire Definitions

Open fire is defined as simple burning of solid or unpressurized liquid fuels, without any enhancement by mechanical devices, extra oxidizers or pyrotechnic materials.

Burning Man defines three different types or levels of open fire, each with different characteristics, and each requiring different approval processes and safety procedures.

LEVEL ONE – Direct contact with the playa. A large sculpture burn in close proximity to the playa surface. A large artwork fully engulfed in flames produces a tremendous amount of heat, requiring a burn shield to prevent burn scars on the playa surface. Projects of this type typically require a safety perimeter, and may also require ranger and/or ESD support. A Burn License is REQUIRED for this level.

LEVEL TWO – Enclosed fire. Simple burning of unpressurized fuels, away from the playa surface and within appropriate fireproof containment. Examples include burn barrels, braziers or other raised containers, oil lamps, torches, candles and other simple uses of fire. Precautions must be taken to ensure that anything that should not be set on fire (fabric, stage sets, etc.) is kept away from flame. As long as all fire, fuel, embers, etc., are kept contained and away from the playa surface, neither a burn shield nor a Burn License are required for this level.

LEVEL THREE – Relocation for burning. Artwork created in one location is moved to an approved burn shield platform at a different location for burning. The artwork could be burned on the Man platform after the Man has fallen, or at one of the public burn gardens located at 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 along the Esplanade. A Burn License is not required for this level.

Safety Guidelines for Level One Open Fire

Burn Shield

A burn shield separates and insulates the playa from burn scarring (baking and discoloration) caused by the intense heat of an open fire burn.

An Artist proposing an Open Fire Level One artwork must include a burn shield plan. FAST must approve your burn shield plan before you bring your project to the event, and must inspect and approve your burn shield in place, as constructed, before you may assemble or burn your artwork on it.

If the Burn Shield is NOT approved, Artist understands and agrees that the artwork will not be burned on the rejected burn shield platform. Violation of this Agreement by ignoring the guidelines and burning the artwork, or anything, on the open Playa, without prior approval will be cause for a $1,000 fine from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The simplest and most effective burn shield is a layer of decomposed granite (DG) placed on the surface of the playa prior to construction of the artwork. The thickness and extent of a DG burn shield depends on the size and weight of your artwork. When spreading a DG layer, care must be taken not to leave any exposed areas, and to prevent the DG from being scattered by participants. Arrangements for the purchase of DG are made through Burning Man after the pre-event burn meeting between your project team and the FAST Artist Liaison. In addition to the purchase price, a deposit will be required to insure that the DG you use is thoroughly cleaned by your LNT team prior to removal after your burn.

You may propose a different burn shield design, but if you choose to do so, you must submit a dimensioned drawing of your proposed platform, showing enough detail to convince FAST that it will in fact provide adequate burn scar protection, and that it will be large enough to capture all pieces of the artwork as they fall. In this case you should also consider the following points:

  • Corrugated steel needs supports no more than two (2) feet (0.6m) apart to support the weight of walkers or heavy objects.
  • The space between the burn shield and the playa surface must be large enough to allow adequate air circulation during the burn.
  • You may not use painted metal. Remove paint from metal before bringing it to the playa.
  • Avoid using aluminum. Even moderately high heat (~1200°F/650°C) will cause aluminum to melt.

You can read much more about burn shields on our Burn Scar Prevention page.

Artwork Materials and Construction

Materials Not To Be Burned

Avoid incorporating plastics and synthetics into your artwork. The burning of any toxic materials in your artwork is prohibited by law. Items that contain such toxic materials may include furniture, rugs, and many other objects typically used to decorate artworks. All such items must be removed from your artwork before it is burned.

Prevent Airborne Embers

Fabric, cardboard, large sections of papier-mâché, thin wood laminates or plywood less than 5/8 inch (16mm) in thickness are not allowed at the time of the burn. These materials can cast large embers that can be carried by heat and wind causing unintended fires and damage.

Nails, Screws and Other Fasteners

You can use nails, screws, or other steel fasteners in the construction of your artwork. You are required to clean them from the burn site. A magnet rake is one of the greatest cleanup tools and can be purchased cheaply.

Safety Perimeter

Your burn’s safety perimeter keeps participants from straying into areas where they could be injured or interfere with the work of your crew. Designing and managing a burn’s perimeter is one of the most complex aspects of the entire burn, with many factors to consider.

Burn Zones

In preparation for a burn, you must clearly identify and determine (with assistance from FAST) appropriate sizes for its burn zones. Starting from the center and working outward, the zones of a burn circle are:

  • Danger Zone (No-Man’s Land)

    • Artwork / Fire Zone – The artwork is at the center; this is where the actual combustion takes place.
    • Collapse Zone – This is the area surrounding the fire zone where the structure may fall. It should be designed to include an allowance for pieces of the structure that may come loose and cartwheel outward when they hit the ground.
    • Pyrotechnics Zone – If the burn includes a pyrotechnics show, this zone is where the mortars surrounding the artwork are placed.
  • Restricted Zone

    • Staff Zone – This is the area in which your crew does the work necessary to make the burn happen. If the burn includes a pyrotechnics show, the fire control station is within this zone.
    • Performance Zone – If the burn includes a performance component, this is where it occurs. Depending on the performance, it may incorporate prep areas (e.g., for fueling fire tools). There may be some overlap with the staff zone.
    • Perimeter Zone – This is the outermost ring of the restricted zone, occupied by members of your perimeter crew, who face outward toward the audience.
  • Perimeter Boundary – This is the line that marks the outer edge of the restricted zone. For some burns it may be marked by delineators and caution tape, while for others it is simply an imaginary line on the ground.
  • Audience Viewing Zone – This is the area where the audience is located and should remain until the perimeter is released.

Perimeter Layout and Features

Perimeter Size

The size of your artwork, the materials used in its construction, the types of fuels and total fuel load, and whether you plan on using pyrotechnics or staging a performance are all factors that go into determining the perimeter needed for burning your artwork. The exact perimeter size your burn requires will be determined at your project’s pre-event burn meeting with the FAST Artist Liaison.

Delineation

For smaller and less complex burns a perimeter can be set with a small perimeter crew and without the need for a marked perimeter dividing line. Larger burns require a marked perimeter and must secure supplies such as traffic cones or delineation posts and caution tape.

Locations On and Within the Perimeter

To identify locations around the circumference of a perimeter, FAST, Rangers and the Emergency Services Department (ESD) use a clock face oriented the same way as Black Rock City’s clock face. To identify a particular point on the perimeter, use its “time” on the clock.

Using the clock face, the burn circle is also divided into quadrants as follows:

  • 12:00-3:00 – Quadrant A (“Alpha”)
  • 3:00-6:00 – Quadrant B (“Bravo”)
  • 6:00-9:00 – Quadrant C (“Charlie”)
  • 9:00-12:00 – Quadrant D (“Delta”)

All members of your crew, and particularly the perimeter crew, should understand and use this scheme, to simplify communication with emergency responders and other support personnel.

Rally Point

Establish a rally point at a predetermined location on your perimeter. This is where all crew members will rendezvous after the perimeter is released, so that everyone can be accounted for. FAST recommends establishing your rally point at the 9:00 position on perimeter, and clearly marking it with a prominent visual identifier.

Safety Corridors

Large burns require that your perimeter plan include safety corridors (i.e., emergency entrances and lanes) for use by emergency and fire service vehicles. These should be placed at the 3:00 & 9:00 positions of your perimeter.

The Perimeter Crew

Management Structure

Management of the perimeter crew begins with the Perimeter Lead, and at least one additional layer of management for any but the very smallest of burns (i.e., less than 30′ perimeter radius).

Each quadrant of the perimeter should have a Quadrant Manager who reports to the Perimeter Lead, and who manages perimeter crew in that quadrant. If the quadrant has a frontage of 150′ or greater, introduce an additional layer of management between the quadrant managers and the people in the front line, so that no one in the chain of command needs to manage more than seven people.

Each Quadrant Manager (and their subordinate managers, if any) should make sure that every person in their quadrant knows:

  • their quadrant identifier
  • where they are positioned on the clock face
  • where the rally point is
  • that they must go to the rally point after the perimeter drops

Crew Headcount

You will need a minimum of one front-line person on your perimeter crew for every 20 feet (6m) of the perimeter’s circumference. Some simple examples:

  • A 50 foot (15m) radius circle requires a 16-person perimeter crew
  • A 100 foot (30m) radius circle requires a 31-person perimeter crew
  • A 200 foot (60m) radius circle requires a 63-person perimeter crew
  • A 300 foot (90m) radius circle requires a 94-person perimeter crew

Note that these counts do not include the Perimeter Lead, quadrant managers or subordinate perimeter managers.

Crew Identification and Safety

Make sure that members of your perimeter crew can be easily identified and distinguished from other participants by providing day-glo safety vests for them to wear over their jackets or other outerwear.

Perimeter crew members should have their eyes on the crowd watching for perimeter breaches, and should be ready to respond immediately. However, perimeter crew members also need to maintain situational awareness of what is going on behind them. Perimeter management personnel (quadrant managers and their subordinates) need to communicate situational changes to the resources they manage.

In the event of a perimeter collapse, make sure all perimeter crew members know not to allow a surging crowd to push them into the fire.

All perimeter crew members should know the location of the designated rally point, and should proceed there after the perimeter is released (or collapses prematurely) so that everyone can be accounted for.Managing the Perimeter

Perimeter Crew Check-In

Set up a check-in location and time for your perimeter crew. A good location is the rally point where everyone working the burn will assemble when the burn concludes. Record the name of every perimeter crew member who checks in, issue them their safety vests, and hand them off to the appropriate perimeter manager.

Perimeter Establishment

Plan to establish the perimeter early enough to allow plenty of time for preparation of the burn, bearing in mind that things rarely go according to plan on the playa.

In the earliest stages of preparation (clearing the structure, loading additional firewood, etc.), you may be able to get by with a smaller perimeter than you will ultimately need for loading pyrotechnics or actually burning the artwork. In these early stages the focus is on preventing participants from straying into the area where your crew is working, to keep both crew and participants safe, and to allow the work to proceed uninterrupted.

As perimeter crew members show up and are checked in, you can either gradually increase the size of the perimeter, or hold them in reserve until the perimeter needs to be significantly expanded for pyro loading or other activities that need a larger perimeter.

Weather Holds and Other Delays

Be sure everyone on the perimeter crew understands that once pyrotechnics are loaded or accelerants have been applied to the structure, a change in the weather or other unforeseen circumstance could require them to be on the line for quite a long time, possibly even until morning.

Adjustments During the Burn

You may need to adjust the size or shape of your perimeter once the burn is underway, to account for changes in wind speed or direction, or for other reasons. Be sure your perimeter management structure can quickly and clearly communicate an order to all the front-line people in the affected area(s).

Perimeter Release

For a simple burn involving no pyrotechnics or other hazards that might remain after the structure collapses, the perimeter can be released as soon as no part of the artwork stands more than seven (7) feet (2m) higher than the playa surface. For a more complex burn, the FAST Lead attending the burn will advise the perimeter lead when the perimeter may be dropped.

Premature Collapse of Perimeter

Every member of your perimeter crew must be aware of the possibility that the perimeter may spontaneously collapse, and how to stay safe if that should happen.

A perimeter collapse is most likely to occur when the audience has waited for what they judge to be an unreasonable length of time for a structure to fall. Once the crowd’s patience has run out, any significant fall of the structure — even if it does not result in everything in the fire zone standing fewer than seven (7) feet (2m) tall, and even if it occurs before all hazards on the ground have been mitigated — may be enough to cause a surge forward.

If this happens, perimeter crew should not attempt to stop it. They should allow the crowd to bypass them, and should move away from the fire, since further collapses, late pyrotechnics ignitions and the like may cause the crowd to stampede back away from the fire. In the event of a perimeter collapse, all members of the crew should proceed to the rally point.

Perimeter Crew Check-Out

However the perimeter is released, all perimeter crew members and managers (and all other crew members) should proceed to the rally point to be accounted for, and to turn in their safety vests and any other gear they may have been issued. Any crew member who fails to report to the rally point for check-out should be considered “missing in action,” and possibly injured or incapacitated, until they are located.

Managing the Burn

The day of the burn, the artist and the burn crew make the final preparations for the burning of the artwork. Below is a general timeline of what needs to be done to prepare for any burn.

Scheduled Burn Time

Although your burn time and day will be decided pre-event during your burn meeting, please confirm that time with FAST after checking in at the ARTery. While FAST will try to accommodate your preferred burn time, it can’t be guaranteed, and it may be changed due to weather, emergencies or other unforeseen circumstances.

Your fire safety liaison is responsible for maintaining daily contact with FAST to stay apprised of any schedule adjustments or other advisories.

FAST Lead

At least one hour before your scheduled burn time (or earlier, depending on the complexity of your burn) a member of FAST designated as the FAST Lead supervising your burn will arrive at your installation to rendezvous and coordinate with the project team (artist and all leads).

Refrain from applying accelerants to the artwork before the FAST Lead arrives. You can and should be making other preparations prior to that time, however, and continue making them after the FAST Lead arrives.

The FAST Lead is a knowledgeable resource who can help you troubleshoot last-minute problems with your preparations. If in doubt about anything, don’t guess: make use of the FAST Lead’s expertise.

The FAST Lead has final say over when you are allowed to:

  • Apply accelerants
  • Start your performance and/or pyrotechnics show, if any
  • Ignite the artwork
  • Release the safety perimeter

Establishing the Perimeter

See Managing the Perimeter. As noted there, plan to establish the perimeter several hours ahead of time to allow for preparation of the structure, loading of pyrotechnics, etc.

Preparing the Structure

Once the perimeter is set and there is no danger of participants entering the work area, the preparations can begin, including:

  • Clearing structure contents
  • Cordwood loading
  • Structural hobbling
  • Pyro loading

All pyrotechnic material must be listed and approved pre-event. An inspection of its placement will be required on-site at the discretion of FAST.

Final Checks and Approval

When all the above preparations are complete, the FAST Lead, Burn Lead and pyrotechnic operator if any will make a final check of the artwork, looking for any stowaways or stragglers, and checking for any hazardous conditions that may have developed while preparations were under way.

If liquid accelerants are needed, a fueling team applies them at this time, using methods documented in the Burn Scenario, and approved by FAST at the pre-event meeting. A fire safety team with fully-charged fire extinguishers in hand, and trained in their use, must accompany and cover fuel team members while they are applying accelerants.

After this final check and fueling of the structure, the “No-Man’s Land” zone of the burn circle is closed to further entry until the artwork is ignited and the structure has fallen.

Just before ignition, the FAST Lead checks the weather. Barring any high wind conditions or other negative weather factors you will receive an OK to burn from the FAST Lead. The FAST Lead issues the necessary license(s) for your burn, and informs the Black Rock Rangers and the Emergency Services Department that the artwork is on schedule to burn.

Ignition

At this time the final sequence of the burn, including performance, pyrotechnics and any ignition ritual can begin.

All of these elements of the burn must be conducted in a way that prevents premature ignition, to ensure the safety of the fuel team while they are in or near the fueled structure.

Important Note: No one on the fuel team should be tasked with the actual ignition of the structure, as there is a chance they will have fuel on their clothing.

Hazard Mitigation

Following structure collapse, for projects involving pyrotechnics the pyro crew must make a sweep of the pyrotechnics zone to check for unfired pyrotechnics such as mortars and gas mines. Any such materials must be neutralized before the perimeter is dropped. FAST will NOT allow a pyrotechnics crew member to enter a burning structure to check that pyrotechnics inside it have gone off.

Any unburned materials that have fallen beyond burn shield must be thrown or pushed back into the fire. These items must not become tripping hazards for participants approaching the fire once the perimeter is dropped. If any rebar, ground screws/ground anchors or stakes are protruding above the playa surface that cannot be removed before the perimeter comes down, cones must be placed over them to alert participants.

Releasing the Perimeter

The perimeter can be released after:

  1. All hazard mitigations listed above have been completed to the satisfaction of the FAST Lead, and
  2. No part of the artwork stands more than seven (7) feet higher than the playa surface

See Managing the Perimeter for additional details.

Burn Aftermath

After the perimeter has been released, all members of the burn crew must be accounted for at the rally point. Any crew member who fails to report to the rally point for check-out should be considered “missing in action,” and possibly injured or incapacitated, until they are located.

An overnight crew must stay with the embers to ensure participant safety and to prepare the area for clean up (LNT) in the morning. Do not allow participants to throw items that are not to be burned, like plastics or hazardous materials, into the fire.

Questions

Here are email addresses where you may direct questions concerning:

Art installations in general: installations@burningman.com
Open Fire: fire-art@burningman.com
Flame Effects: flame-effects@burningman.com
Pyrotechnics: pyro@burningman.com

Registration and Approval

Read all about how to register your project and get it approved.