Major Laser Bummer

Laser Show, 2003 from Erick Leskinen


You can do almost anything you want at Burning Man. But there are some important don’ts.

Like, “Don’t shine lasers at people’s eyes.”


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Ranger Halston was permanently blinded in her left eye at last year’s burn.

11082770_10153163472751575_503569414_nThat is WAY too much to give up.

And now she has mounting doctors fees and lost wages.

“It’s all fun and games until…”

I like to think that If I accidentally drop my scarf on the playa, a fellow burner will pick it up.

That if I am thirsty in deep playa, a fellow burner will give me water.

That if I hurt my leg on rebar, a fellow burner will help me back to camp.

And if I damage my sight while serving as a Ranger, fellow burners will help me out.

If you can, please gift to her fundraiser.

UPDATE:  Will Chase has posted a more in depth look at Ranger Halston’s situation.


The Man Glows, 2002 from Lewis Jacobs



About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

15 Comments on “Major Laser Bummer

  • Ranger Observer says:

    Thanks Halcyon for posting this! It’s a complete shame this occurred and has been a growing concern for Rangers for awhile, especially as we look INTO the crowd at burn perimeters.

    PLEASE FOLKS, leave the lasers at home. They’re awesome, yes, but risking SOMETHING ELSE’S sight is a radical act in all the wrong ways.

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  • Robyn says:

    Not to detract from this tragedy, and the power of community support, but… why doesn’t the Burning Man organization pick up the tab? They certainly have insurance, right?

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  • Kyrka says:

    From Halston’s GoFundMe, you can find the following:

    From September 2014 to February 2015, I’ve lost wages and accumulated medical bills totaling $10,000 that Burning Man’s Workers’ Compensation insurance company has yet to pay. My doctor’s visits will continue until at least July of 2015. The estimated lost wages and doctor bills for March 2015 to July 2015 is another $10,000, for a total of $20,000.

    As you will soon find out if in a similar situation, the insurance companies aren’t in any hurry… they usually want to confirm how long you can hold your breath.

    A HUGE thanks to our community – I shared a link yesterday when the fund was at zero $, and this morning $9,081 and counting…

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  • Lebip says:

    Another important thing to consider: We as participants need to be more vigilant at calling people out, and taking whatever steps necessary to stop the kind of behavior that damages people’s lives.
    If someone next to you has a laser pointer, and you see them pointing it at people, taunting rangers, or even ruining man burn just by polluting things visually, we all need to feel responsible in controlling that behavior. We can’t just ‘let it go’. Abuse is abuse everywhere.

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  • Trypticon says:

    I’ve a bit of peripheral expertise in this as I have a couple of friends in the Professional level of laser management and performance.
    First: ALL lasers fire within the US are under Federal Aeronautics Administration’s Permitting, Licensing, and Compliance. The FAA is the Administering Agency for Permitting of firing lasers outside, as our whole Commercial/Private Airline Industry has an invisible network of laser guidance above our heads 24/7/365. There are VERY CLEAR guidance and operating requirements for all lasers being fired in an outside setting. Apathy or ignorance on the part of participants and the BMorg is no excuse for people being harmed by actions not of their own control. Short of wearing laser eye protection, how does one protect themselves from lasers fired from potentially thousands of feet away?
    Second: Guidance for firing lasers outside and permitting can be found here >> . The BMorg needs to step up immedietly and set a Policy and enforce it ASAP, or at some point the FAA WILL come down w/ a hammer in the form of huge fines, tickets, and or people going to jail. This is no joking matter, as we have an example of what happens when dangerous things like this are left to the whims of private participants.

    Hopefully the Decommodification, LLC can provide guidance sooner rather then later on this as peoples physical and financial health have been adversely affected by the lack of a set of guidance or rules in place to protect the participants and VOLUNTEERS from being harmed because of their lack of oversight and management of this particular issue. A women has lost her sight possibly for life.

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  • JT says:

    >Abuse is abuse everywhere.

    Abuse is not abuse if you sign a waiver.

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  • Vegas says:

    >Abuse is not abuse if you sign a waiver.

    Yeah, but ‘assault with a weapon’ is always ‘assault with a weapon’, and lasers at the power that injured that Ranger are considered weapons [just ask the FAA].

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    • JT says:

      ‘…assault with a weapon’ is always ‘assault with a weapon’

      Not exactly. ‘Assault’ is a crime that a person can be charged with and convicted for. It’s really just a legal term and only has any meaning if someone is actually convicted of assault. Otherwise it’s just alleged and anyone can allege anything about anyone. And then if you’re adding ‘with a weapon’ to the story, that thickens the plot – was it used as a weapon? What was the intent? etc etc etc.

      All you can really say in a case like this is ‘I got done wrong!’, or “Accidents happen!”, unless you have a suspect there’s not much you can do aside from ban the things. Ban everything on the playa that causes serious injury.

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  • Siggo says:

    Thanks Halcyon for helping raise this issue. Even if people don’t or can’t contribute to her campaign, every conversation (even the snarky ones) help bubble the issue up further up to the top of everyone’s mind and closer to someone actually saying to the guy next to them “hey, you can really hurt someone with that.” It’s a shame but not everyone is even aware that a $10 hand held laser they got from China can actually do that sort of damage. This helps

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  • Hot Rod says:

    Why doesn’t the Org cover her expenses until their insurance company pays out? Can’t they afford it? If not, she can get a loan based on the expected pay-out.

    This is a really horrible occurrence and I’m sad that it happened to her, but there’s really no need for public fundraising in this circumstance. Instead, send your money to a charity that helps people who otherwise won’t get anything, like, or

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    • April Light says:

      Hot Rod, there IS a need for public fundraising in this circumstance because no one has paid her anything up to this point. She can’t just wait around as she has lost her job and her bills mount. Please don’t discourage people from giving to this amazing, selfless, hardworking individual. Right now she needs all the help she can get. Each year when I arrive on playa she has already been there for several days working and is usually first in our camp to arrive and last to leave. Her dedication to the event and every participant in need is unquestionable. There is no shame in asking a community to help, especially one she has given so much to.~

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  • Scott says:

    I think maybe it’s time for a ban on handheld lasers, with a provision for waivers for special projects in case someone actually needs one for a good reason.

    The lasers don’t really add to anyone’s enjoyment of the event and are just a safety hazard at this point.

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  • G says:

    Maybe another time we can talk about the escalating Art Car sound system wars, and the hearing loss they are contributing to as well?

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  • Lime says:

    I am a personal friend of the person who’s laser caused that problem. I want everyone to know the laser was mounted on a scaffold over 30 ft in the air in between two rvs. While we were out for the night someone thought it would be smart to climb up on the tower it was on and shine it on a ranger station. Housing will be made in the future to prevent idiots from causing problems like this. It’s a shame that some people would do such a thing.

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    • Brian says:

      In fact, the housing will not be made safer, because thanks to your friend’s carelessness, lasers are now banned at Burning Man.

      If, for example, live explosives were left unattended, and some raver set them off by hitting a big red button, I think we’d all agree that while the raver bears some responsibility, it’s mostly the fault of the dumbass who left something out that could cause harm to their fellow humans, as if they couldn’t conceive that someone at Burning Man might be under the influence of intoxicating substances or do something reckless and impulsive.

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