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

Over the years we have found a short list of materials that when burned create excessive embers and floating burning materials. These loose sources of unintended ignition can cause issues for Mutant Vehicles at the burn perimeter and nearby Art projects.

Materials not to be burned due to embers include:

  • Fabric
  • Cardboard
  • Large sections of papier-mâché
  • Thin wood laminates
  • Plywood less than 5/8th inches thick
  • OSB, chipboard, and particle-board

Engineered and Glue Laminated Structural Elements

While Engineered and Glue Laminated Structural wood has excellent strength and may be useful in larger structures, it is also designed to be fire-resistant. Through experience, we have found that these type of beams can often end up mostly unburned and can remain upright long after the rest of the materials have burned. The result can be the need to hold the perimeter for the time that it takes for the remaining unburned sections to be made safe.

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. Read more about Managing a Burn Perimeter here. 

Scheduled Burn Time

Although your burn time and day will be decided pre-event during your burn meeting, please confirm that day and 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.org
Open Fire: fire-art@burningman.org
Flame Effects: flame-effects@burningman.org
Pyrotechnics: pyro@burningman.org

Registration and Approval

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