and just like that, there’s a fence

The work was hot and dry and dusty and hard, but at the end of the day, there was an awful lot to show for it. ….

There were actually about five miles of fence to show for it. And the rest of the fence was going to be finished on Saturday. That’ll be NINE miles of fence built in two days!

If you haven’t heard already, the Burning Man footprint is a lot larger this year. In the past several years, the circumference of the perimeter fence was six miles. But now, as a crowd in excess of 40,000 is expected, everything has been pushed out — the Esplanade, the area around center camp, and the fence. So everyone will have more room, but it also means that everything is further apart. So you might want to make sure there’s air in your bike tires, because you’re definitely going to need it.

The fence build is an amazing thing to behold. Everyone meets for a 6 am breakfast at Bruno’s, and Logan gives the rundown for the day: “Who wants to pound some fence??!!” he yells, and there are whoops and hollers throughout the room.

And he’s not kidding when he says “pound.” All of the metal stakes that are driven into the hard-baked playa are pounded by hand. Burning Man LLC could no doubt rent a pole-pounder, but the DPW crew won’t hear of it. Getting out there at the crack of dawn and smashing those stakes into the ground by hand is a point of pride. You crank the music, splash yourself with sunblock, tape up your hands and put on your gloves and get to pounding.

A big semi loaded with stakes makes its way around the playa, with a crew in the back tossing stakes to the ground. Then the pounders come along and do their thing. Then another crew follows, and they tie three levels of string between the stakes. Finally,  another crew comes up and attaches the familiar orange mesh fence. And they do it hour after hour in the hot baking sun.

They rule.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

17 Comments on “and just like that, there’s a fence

  • 123 what are we fighting for says:

    fencing in the free spirit of creativity?
    what does this say about BM?
    that it has become a spectacle that has boundaries and rules because of the fodder that must be contained rather than a gathering of free spirited thinkers, creators and doers that cannot and should not be contained after all??

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  • ramrob says:

    Go Fencebuilders!

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  • Andie Grace says:

    123: Unless I’m mistaken, the first such fence was erected around Black Rock City in 1997; its primary purpose was to catch windblown trash that is carried away from the city, but in later days of permits with the BLM (and since 2002, again if I’m not mistaken) it has come to define the area of our permit for the week.

    So I guess what it says about Burning Man is that the event itself has a boundary in space, and in time.

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  • sunset says:

    the first 2 years i was there, i didn’t even know there was a fence…

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  • For the first time ever the trash fence will also be the site of an art installation itself. Visit the Trash Fence and 12:15 to view 2663 Urban Tumbleweeds a visual documentation of the amount of plastic bags the US consumes in 1 second.

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  • larry breed says:

    Andie — The first trash fence was built in 1996, as an art installation: 1 mile long, downwind side rather than encircling. It had bamboo poles and lightweight black mesh, with orange tape and rebar caps on top. I built it with whoever I could talk into working for an hour or two.

    1997 was on Hualapai playa, and no trash fence was required or built. But in late Sept there was a hella windstorm that blew anything on the playa off to the far side, where it ALL got snagged by the first bushes, like they were moop magnets. So walking the line of the first vegetation, I found everything waiting to be collected, including a tent which conveniently held all the rest. I tied it down and two years later Metric and I went back and brought it in.

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  • Figment says:

    I like to think of the fence as keeping the default world out of our little gathering.

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  • Mr Rebar says:

    DPW rocks, but a demolition hammer is the way to drive things into the playa. Laughing at what they can do is just plain stupid. Of course some white beards laughed when I used one in my camp! A management philosophy of doing things the hard way on purpose is misguided. Plenty of machinery is used to build the city – use some to build the fence.

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  • CamiloSan says:

    I think the fence is a great idea. It’s obvious why using a machine would be more efficient but efficacy isn’t what the pre-event would be all about.

    Smashing stakes into the ground by hand is good for the soul. These guys can take *pride* in lifting and dropping a hammer instead of pulling a lever.

    I personally am appreciative of the good JuJu they put into something as simple as a fence.

    Big ups to you guys.

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  • Trieste says:

    I’ve always felt that fences keep us in (safe, secure) and everything else (the big bad) out.

    I agree with CamiloSan, that is some seriously good JuJu that the DPW is putting into our perimiter. Hard work to keep us secure, and keep any stray trash from escaping.

    I don’t feel contained by the fence at all :)

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  • Thunder says:

    Regardless of Machinery -vs- Man, or Fence-vs-Freedom MAD LOVE to the DWP crew and Curley for making that.

    My Two cents: 1) creativity can not exist without structure
    2) I gotta agree with Mr. Rebar, Lay the first mile by hand and then do the rest with a machine. It’s not like there arent’ a GAZILLION opportunities to prove your hardwork ethic building that city. Work smarter, not harder.

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  • top 40 says:

    Why are you people talking about fences, when I KNOW you haven’t finished your costumes!

    And you should pound the needle through the fabric with a crescent wrench. That is definitely the best way.

    I’m guessing it’s 10 or 11 days until the spider runs out of gas (the first time) …

    Burn that fucker.

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  • Mad Dog says:

    I just got here. Were you talking about fences? Hmm Curious indeed.

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  • epona says:

    mr. rebar,

    unless i am mistaken (and someone please correct me if i am wrong) one year they did attempt to pound fence stakes using an automated machine.

    but lo and behold, they discovered the dpw could do it faster with their bare hands.

    why am i not surprised?

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  • Rose says:

    I need to get to burning man but i’m not sure how…… can have money …… can trade massage for services. i’m a bright shiny girl and i am called to burning man! I really don’t know what to say about the fences but….. uhh i’ve never been there and I need to get there!!!! i think… i hope…. i know!

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  • Rose says:

    i got shit to burn man

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  • sue ingram says:

    What an awesome achievement! I have only ever experienced that sort of thing when building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Amasing how great it was to volunteer to help in such a physical way and then find myself putting in some hard labour that I really wasn’t used to at all but was enjoying every bit of the way. The best part was looking back and seeing how much was achieved in such a short space of time. But the working together as a team was also excellent.
    Think I’ll have to come and bring you all some of my sunscreen next year.

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