Performance Safety Team

Burning Man has developed a Performance Safety Team (PST) that assists artists in the safe execution of open fire, flame effects, and pyrotechnic art installations.  The Performance Safety Team brings artists, fire safety personnel, and industry professionals together, and consists at minimum of a Performance Safety Coordinator, an Emergency Services Department Fire Rescue Branch Chief, two licensed pyrotechnicians, a Ranger liaison, and various advisors.  The goal is to communicate with, and provide experienced support for, artists pre-event and on-site, and ensure the safe use of fire and pyrotechnics at the Burning Man event.



In 2006 the Performance Safety Team worked to improve artist registrations pre-event and on the playa.  Over the years the team has refined registration questions to refine the information needed to review these projects, as well as make it clear and easy to understand for artists.

The Serpent Mother by the Flaming Lotus Girls.In 2006 there was always a PST member on duty at the ARTery during its hours of operation whose primary task was to organize incoming inspections and dispatch PST members to inspections.  This greatly reduced the time from an inspection request to a completed inspection.  With new growth in membership, PST was able to assign specialized inspectors to specific types of inspection such as burn platforms, flame effects, and pyrotechnics.

The need to create a special fire to kick off the Burning Man event on Monday night culminated in the lighting of fires within Esplanade Burn Platforms.  Simultaneous lighting of the burn platforms gave participants a delightful surprise.  This First Fire signaled the beginning of many blazing flames spotted throughout the week.  Fires lit the night sky and cozy corners within Theme Camps that were filled with warmth and glow.  The scale of fire art pieces was unprecedented in 2006; a few are noted here:

2BLEVE by Nate Smith propelled over 100 gallons of fuel into a massive fireball. Nate continues his creative gift in sculpting fire.

Uchronia burn.Message Out Of The Future by Jan Kriekels, Arne Quinze and the Uchronians created an incredible structure made entirely of 1 x 2’s nailed together in a seemingly random pattern. The completed piece measured approximately 180′ in length and 50′ in height and burned on Sunday night.

Serpent Mother by the Flaming Lotus Girls kept the fire burning all night with their massive, hydraulic, fire-spewing stainless steel serpent.

Patience.Burninator II by Bill Codding used a remote computer to ignite a series of accumulator effects over a 1000 foot line that took scale to greater lengths on the playa.

2006 projects took fire art back in time, presented in ways not seen before such as:

Kinetic Steam Works by Sean Orlando brought a steam-powered traction engine to the playa, delighting participants with its steamy whistle, and suggesting that perhaps steam is the new fire.

Exxothermia by Vance Cearley and Andrew Sano showed us that fire and ice do mix, with mesmerizing results.

The Thermic Zombie Lance of Power by Brook Terpstra brought lava back to the playa after thousands of years.  A thermic rod was used to melt holes through solid granite.

The logistics of registering, placing, fueling, and monitoring the safety of fire art required a lot of pre-event planning and help from a variety of departments at Burning Man such as the ARTery, Art Support, Support Services, Black Rock City Fuels, Black Rock Rangers, and Emergency Services Department (ESD). The efforts of these departments were well-organized in 2006 and communication between all departments greatly improved.

Over the last two years we have seen a significant growth in the placement of fire art and burn barrels in the Theme Camps.  The light and warmth of these fires draw participants into the camping areas.  With this presence of fire within the city comes the responsibility for camps to ensure fire safety.  This challenge was well met.  As the Performance Safety Team spot-checked these Theme Camps they found that they took this responsibility to heart through Theme Camp fire watchers and sufficient fire extinguishers in proximity to the fires.

Lantern at the SF Fire Arts Expo.Off-playa, in May of 2006 Burning Man brought the fire home to San Francisco with the Fire Arts Exposition at Candlestick Park.  The Burning Man Project and PST members worked closely with the San Francisco Fire Department for months prior to the exposition to create a unique local showcase comprised of the best fire artists and the result was a new understanding, respect, and cooperation between Burning Man fire artists and the SFFD.  We hope to again bring our brand of incendiary fun to SF in 2007.


One of the challenges has been the use of different questionnaires and databases for the Art Department, Theme Camps, and DMV.  In 2007 we hope to bring these disparate resources together in one database language and in uniform questionnaires.  Also, the intake of important drawings that accompany each application has been a challenge over the years and we hope to implement an infrastructure that can receive zipped electronic files in uniform file formats.

With the 2007 Green Man theme, the challenge of the fire arts community is to burn green with green fuels.  Over the last few years we have seen fuels such as hydrogen, methanol, bio-diesel, and other alternative fuels adopted by the fire arts community.  Burning Man has been a testing ground for alternative fuels and technologies and will continue to encourage and support these efforts.

Submitted by
Dave X