Burning Man 2002
and Galen's Account of Surviving a Condition Alpha Blow
what was described as the worst blow in the history of Burning
Man which began in the late morning of September 3rd, 2002. The
following is a recounting of this experience by four members of
WOW Camp, Frank Schwartz, Kitty Wells, Galen Brandt and your photographer,
recommended Condition Alpha Survival
following are scenes from WOW and one if its members, Kush Camp,
during the Sept 3rd 100 MPH continuous blow which destroyed much
of Burning Man.
Before: Kush Camp approximately one hour before the blow commenced
kind of blow
blow hit at 11:30am we were in our tiny Provan Tiger motor home.
I felt this was something different as the wind was so violent
that it rocked the motor home back and forth, even though we faced
the vehicle directly into the wind. We had sealed up all the windows
and hatches and yet fine gypsum dust squirted in through every
crack it could find, even through the undercarriage and engine.
We lost sight of Kitty and Frank's camp only 200 feet away and
assumed they had packed up and left. We were wrong.
and Frank's not so excellent adventure
dear friends Kitty and Frank were in terribly trouble. The blow
had caught them in the most vulnerable position, with their camp
half taken down. We could not see them at all but they set out
to seek help from us but instead got lost, finding another friend
hunkered down about 300 feet from us. He pointed them in the direction
of our RV and they managed to find us. We heard a knock on the
door and were very happy to see them and invited them in to our
lifeboat. This was the worst Kitty and Frank had ever seen and
they have been coming to the Playa since 1991.
Frank said that DPW/Rangers had come by told them that this was
an emergency Condition Alpha and to help rescue anyone
in need and under no circumstances attempt to drive on or off
of the Playa as the road was closed in any case.
After: Kush Camp!
During and momentary clearing, driving to the wreckage of Kush
Camp with streaks of dust on the windshield
the rescue of Kush
giving Kitty and Frank water I decided to drive our vehicle carefully
forward during a momentary clearing to scout Kush Camp. As it
appeared through the whiteout I wondered how anyone could have
survived working outside in this for hours. I parked the motorhome
in the windward side of Kush providing a sort of windbreak and
allowing us to get in and out and work as a team.
View of Kitty and Frank trying to take down Kush Camp in the storm,
we gave up on this up until hours later.
donned our dust masks and goggles and worked for another hour
trying to pack up Kush. It was pretty fruitless work and I realized
there was no way we could safely pack the trailer during this
kind of wind. One gust of wind catching a tarp and our work would
be undone. One misstep into a hunk of sharp rebar invisible under
a sand dune and we would have a serious injury. I encouraged the
team to repair to the RV and attack this again when I assumed
the winds would die down, as they often can at dusk. We made ourselves
a wonderful meal and Galen offered sponge baths for those with
skin peppered by high speed dust grains.
noticed that dusk was fast coming on and that if we did not move
back outside and finish the job we would have to stay another
night on the Playa, with the possibility of another serious storm.
I encouraged everyone to cut the dinner short and we worked highly
effectively as a team unloading hundreds of pounds of sand dunes
from the remnants of Kitty and Frank's camp and packing an impossible
amount of stuff on their trailer. We finished with just enough
light left and jointly pulled out, making it to Fernley where
Frank and Kitty really needed to crash (in the last hotel room
in town). Galen and I went on to Reno to a much appreciated hotel
room and bed.
dangerous is Condition Alpha?
that on our Burning Mand tickets it says "you risk bodily injury
or death by attending this event". Well, Burning Man dodged a
bullet this year. If this had happened two days earlier we would
have had a real emergency on the playa. At one point Galen saw
a huge meta framework traveling down the Playa at about 20 miles
per hour. Someone told us that while seeking cover in their collapsed
tent they heard the beat of a large metal drum, probably a burn
barrel, pounding its way down the playa and lo and behold, it
clobbered them where they lay. Greeters and other volunteers were
urgently called back to the Playa to help and some drove a full
12 hours from Seattle. If you were exposed to 100 MPH flows of
gypsum and other flying debris, you could be seriously injured.
Skin would be punctured to bleeding. The only objects that stayed
down were the banks of porta potties (sometimes it helps to be
full of shit).
Camp's huge tent survived the blow but everything else was wrecked
or covered with heavy dunes. Being next to center camp must have
been a hazardous place as art pieces, bits of the cafe and other
matter out of place was speeding through. The blow fence must
be a single dune 4 miles long filled with MOOP and a real pain
for the cleanup crews to deal with (would need heavy equipment).
look relaxed in these pictures but this is an illusion, people
were happy and relieved to be alive and together in the lifeboat
of Bruce and Galen's Tiger RV.
recommended Condition Alpha Survival
great writing about this event see Jim
Mason's Letter From Burning Man: Dust Up.
Frank and Kitty, truly brave playanauts