On Friday, August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas. As a Category 4 storm with winds upwards of 130 miles per hour, the storm inundated the Gulf Coast of Texas from Corpus Christi to Houston, and inland to Austin and San Antonio.
In the grand Burning Man tradition, the work to recover from the historic flooding began on playa, before the Gate even opened. From their Theme Camp command center at 2:45 and Esplanade, Burners Without Borders set up collection points across Black Rock City for supplies, donations and boots-on-the-ground volunteers. Now that the event is over, they’re rolling out to join the rebuilding effort.
This is what Burners do. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast during the Burn, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for Burners to head down there with their skills and equipment, clear out damage and build shelter. That’s how Burners Without Borders was born as an organization. Now an in-house program of Burning Man Project, it’s possible for BWB to leverage the planet-scale Burning Man network to spring into action wherever disaster strikes. As it happens, the BWB presence in Texas was already powerful before Hurricane Harvey galvanized it. With the pieces for the relief effort already in place, Black Rock City residents got to work recovering from Hurricane Harvey before their shoes even got dusty.
As BWB breaks down camp on Monday, there’s a big collection of supplies and materials out front bound for Texas. There’s more out at Collexodus — Black Rock City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) takes donations for its own crews from people leaving the event, and this year it’s taking Hurricane Harvey donations as well. Center Camp Café and the Arctica ice stations have been filling up bottles and boxes with cash drops and donation envelopes all week. At press time, 55 people have signed up to volunteer.
Patrick “Parsec” Brown and Jay Noyfub from BWB Corpus Christi got this on-playa effort started. They just knew something had to be done, so they activated the full BWB network. “This is going to be done by BWB at large,” says BWB Program Manager Christopher Breedlove, “but the leadership is going to come from our strong Texas communities in Austin, North Texas, Corpus Christi and San Antonio.”
“People have been incredibly giving right away,” Breedlove says. “We’ve been offered multiple sites across Texas we can use as base camps, as well as equipment and shelter.”
It’s always BWB’s style to consider each effort a replicable prototype for how to do it again next time. “We had a really amazing experience building this camp in Black Rock City this year,” Breedlove says. “Part of the vision is to take this camp and export it to Texas. We want to create a community center that isn‘t just doing direct relief but is also teaching children’s art workshops and making a skill-sharing curriculum for people. We’re cultural first-responders. It’s something we’re uniquely adapted to.”
Burning Man is never over — each iteration of the work is just practice for the next. Just as the lessons for how to Burn better begin the moment we start unpacking on playa, each civic effort makes us stronger and more capable. “If we’re practicing for anything out here in the desert, this is what we’re practicing for,” says Breedlove. “It’s not just the physical skills; it’s the social skills and the volunteer skills, and the ability to create community in harsh environments that will help us succeed.”
The world is going to need more and more Burners as this century unfolds. We know how to improvise, how to keep spirits high, how to clean up a mess. We know how to enter inhospitable places and build cities that feel like home. We’ve done it before, we’re doing it now, and we’re ready to do it again.