RENO, Nev – Another record crowd gathered Saturday for the traditional climax of the Burning Man counterculture arts festival on the northern Nevada desert.
The crowd as of noon Saturday reached 47,097, up about 21 percent over last year, said Jamie Thompson, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"I think that will probably be close to the peak," he said.
Participants could see a smoke plume from a 75-acre wildfire at the base of Melody Mountain about 15 to 20 miles northwest of the festival site, Thompson said, but the blaze posed no threat to them.
No major problems were reported by authorities during the weeklong gathering leading up to Labor Day on the Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles north of Reno.
But dust storms on Friday and Thursday created complete white-outs that sent participants scurrying for shelter.
"The only downside is there's been an awful lot of dust," said Thompson, whose agency oversees the festival because of its location on federal land.
The annual celebration of radical self-expression was scheduled to climax Saturday night with the torching of a 40-foot wooden figure known as "The Man," the event's signature effigy.
A San Francisco man was arrested Tuesday after allegedly burning The Man four days ahead of schedule, but festival-goers rebuilt it.
Also scheduled to go up in flames Saturday night was the "Crude Awakening" art piece, billed as the tallest structure ever built at the festival.
Its torching was postponed Friday night after the windstorms produced static electricity, Thompson said.
Crude Awakening features a wooden oil derrick and its creators hope a 1,000-foot column of flame will underscore the nation's dependence on oil. The theme of this year's gathering is "Green Man."
As of midnight Thursday, the BLM had issued 115 citations, 50 of them for drug violations. Pershing County had issued 20 citations and made six arrests.
Festival-goers stay in Black Rock City, a makeshift 5-square-mile encampment on the playa of the remote, sprawling Black Rock Desert.