Burning Man Set to Ignite Amid Sandstorm, Suicide

The Man won't officially be set on fire until Saturday night, but this year's Burning Man has already had its fair share of fireworks.

A festival-goer apparently committed suicide at the celebration Thursday, with his body hanging in a tent for more than an hour before passersby realized he was actually a dead man, not a prop decorating the tent.

And two days earlier the 40-foot-tall wood-and-neon Man was prematurely set on fire, allegedly by a disillusioned former devotee of the festival, leaving organizers scrambling to repair damage before Saturday's official burning.

Burning Man is difficult to accurately describe, and with a population of about 40,000 revelers, hippies and Silicon Valley scions — reportedly including the founders of Google — it is different things to different people. At its heart is an annual festival of art and music dedicated to self-expression and environmental care. Clothing is optional, and drugs and alcohol abound.

And so each summer Black Rock City, a temporary oasis in the Nevada Desert, comes to life with festival-goers bringing little more than supplies for the week, an anything-goes attitude and a promise that when they depart, they will leave behind no trace or trash to hint they were there.

The scale and magnitude of the city that literally comes together and disbands in a little more than a week's time often have an arresting, surreal impact on festival-goers.

"I haven't done anything hallucinogenic at all … but because of the way it's set up, because of all the lights … it often feels like you're hallucinating things out here even though you're not," said a festival-goer named Dan, who asked that his last name be withheld. He is at Burning Man for the first time.

"There are so many naked people around here that you begin to lose track of that as a weird thing," Dan said.

He said he was surprised to see that hard drugs were not as prevalent as he had expected — and that there were even some children in attendance.

"It's kind of like a world fair in a sense. The magnitude of it totally surprised me," Dan said.

Suicide Discovered

The man police think committed suicide Thursday has not yet been identified, according to Ron Skinner, the sheriff of Pershing County. He said the man was between 20 and 25 years old, had light brown hair, a slender build and was nearly 6 feet tall.

"Currently he is John Doe because we don't have identification on him. We don't have any missing persons reports to go off of. We're hoping that somebody misses this young man soon," Skinner said.

The body was discovered around 8:30 a.m. Thursday in a themed tent where partygoers gathered. Skinner said that for between one and 1½ hours people entered and left the tent without noticing that the man had killed himself. The tent's interior decorations already created a "surreal scene," and some people who went in the tent initially thought the hanging man was just another prop, Skinner said.

With phone service and Internet access spotty in the desert, news of the suicide has been slow in circulating across the temporary metropolis.

"It's a major city and I didn't know about the suicide until I just happened to have e-mail here," said Dan, the neophyte festival-goer. "I told other people about it and they were surprised to hear about it."

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