Burners in flux - Page 6

Why would anyone spend four months and $180,000 building something that will only last a week? The answer says a lot about Burning Man culture

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The 21,000-square-foot Temple of Flux rises in the desert
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOHN CURLEY

The most basic goal was to create hundreds of "burn packs" made of paraffin, sawdust, burlap, and other flammable materials to "add a lot of calories in one spot, which is what we're after," he said. The burn packs, stacks of kindling, and tubes of copper and chlorine shavings to create a blue-green color were placed strategically throughout the Temple as soon as the framing was done.

The idea is to break down the structure before the cladding burns away so the A-frames aren't standing up the air. "I would like to get the structure to collapse relatively quickly," Don said. "Then we'll have a pile of fuel that will burn for a while."

They also created 13 "sawdust cannons" using the finest, cleanest sawdust from the cutting of wood at American Steel, one of many creative reuses of the project's byproducts. Tubes of the sawdust, so fine they called it "wood flour," were placed over buried air compressors that will be silently fired off during the burn to create flammable plumes. "I've taken the opportunity to turn this burn into more than just setting a structure on fire," Don said.

The Temple is where burners memorialize those who have died, something that took on personal significance with the Department of Spontaneous Combustion crew when member Randall Issac died suddenly of cancer earlier this year.

So they created the largest cave in the Temple of Flux as a memorial to him, only to have Burning Man brass threaten to close it down because of concerns about the potential fire hazard. On Aug. 25, Burning Man fire safety director Dave X (who founded the Flaming Lotus Girls in 2000) led a delegation to inspect the Temple, which includes Bettie June from the Artery, lawyer Lightning Clearwater, Tomas McCabe from Black Rocks Arts Foundation, and fire marshal Joseph P.

"The thing we're concerned about is closed spaces, ingress and egress," said Dave X, who assembled all the relevant department heads to consider it together.

After touring the site with PK and Jess, the group eventually agreed that the risk was manageable if the Temple Guardians who will work shifts monitoring the project during the week watch out for certain things. "Their mantra needs to be no smoking, no fire," Dave said. Joseph also said the caves needed to be named and a protocol developed for evacuation in case of accidental fire.

"The important thing is that whoever is calling in can use the terminology we use in our dispatch center," Joseph said.

The fire arts were largely developed in the Bay Area by burners, who have developed an expertise and understanding that exceeds most civil authorities. And even though the Temple crew was like family to him, Dave X warned them, "You guys are in the yellow zone here where you're taking precautions."

 

KEEPING THE PACE

On the playa, a sense of camaraderie and common purpose propelled the Temple crew to make rapid progress on the project, working all day, every day, and most of every night. Given the uncertain weather on the playa, they still felt time pressure and the need to crack the whip on the crew periodically, particularly guarding against letting the great social vibe turn into a party that steals the focus from the work at hand.

"Let this temple be your highest priority," Rebecca also said the night of Tuesday, Aug. 24, asking for a show of hands of when people were committing to work on the project: that night, the next morning, during the heat of the next day. "Look at each other and know that you're making a commitment to yourselves and each other."