Burners Without Borders Responds To Hurricanes And Wildfires

Hurricane Harvey made landfall northeast of Corpus Christi in August 2017. Longtime Burners remembered that gut-wrenching feeling from 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit during the Burn. At that time, it was instinctual to some folks that they should head straight from the playa to the Gulf to help out with the relief effort, an operation that led to the creation of Burners Without Borders (BWB). Twelve years later, when Hurricane Harvey struck, BWB was ready for action.

While the event in Black Rock City was ongoing, Burners Without Borders set up collection points throughout the city for donations, and after the Temple Burn, people and supplies left for Texas. The generosity of Burning Man participants filled a 30-foot box truck, which was driven to Texas by Tom Price, one of the original founders of BWB 11 years prior. BWB Corpus Christi set up a relief camp in Aransas Pass to distribute donations and serve as a basecamp HQ for their cleanup and demolition operations. The Austin, North Texas, and San Antonio chapters sprung into action to support them, and new working groups formed in Galveston and Houston in response to this storm. BWB volunteers took care of first responders and displaced people, helped clear the way for utility crews, and soon expanded to offer sanctuary, skill-sharing workshops, and art activities for kids. Volunteers logged 5,000 hours of work and raised over $20,000 for displaced and affected people, and the infrastructure established in this relief effort will go on to serve as artistic and civic centers in the affected communities.

Unfortunately, the 2017 hurricane season had more in store. In September, Hurricane Irma struck in Florida, and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. An alliance was formed combining Burning Man theme camps TransFOAMation and Abraxas, along with Grassroots Kitchen and some socially conscious companies (the group that would later become Grassroots Aid Partners- G.A.P.) to deploy their playa kitchen to the already distressed town of Immokalee, Florida. They served 30,000 meals and logged thousands more hours combined with efforts from BWB Florida. The BWB volunteers left a permanent, positive trace, too: They built an educational playspace for the community called Immokalee P.L.A.Y.

Tom LaPorte

“Lost Tom” LaPorte, a founding figure behind many of Burning Man’s media and civic institutions, passed away in 2017. An accomplished journalist and civic leader, he traveled to his first Burn from Chicago in 2005. Early on, he was recruited to the team at Media Mecca, and things just took off from there. He founded and became Executive Producer of the Profiles in Dust Team, who produce Burning Man-related video content year-round, he was a beloved show host and key innovator for Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR), he narrated the BRC webcast for people who couldn’t be there in person, and he was a founding member of Burners Without Borders. He was a leader in his regional Burning Man community in Chicago throughout it all. The common thread through all this action, though, was Tom’s passion, kindness, selflessness, leadership, and sense of humor. Tom left an indelible imprint on the people and culture of Burning Man. We are deeply grateful for his countless contributions, and will work to honor Tom’s sizable legacy with equal amounts of dedication and fun.

The scale of the damage in Puerto Rico was so severe that it hampered the efforts of official responders, but even there, BWB volunteers coordinated some relief efforts, most notably the continuing relief project, Sail Relief. That same month, a major earthquake struck Mexico City, and BWB raised funds and supported Burner relief projects there as well. These were organized by theme camps Maxa, Mayan Warrior and Humano.

In November, wildfires took a serious toll on California, and BWB and the Burning Man community again answered the call to provide resources to those in need. Camp Epic, another BRC theme camp, created Oasis Village, gifting ready-to-use container housing to support people displaced by the fires, and people donated the use of their RVs to supplement these structures. The contribution of Burning Man participants to fire relief efforts was covered extensively by local news outlets. And in response to the Lilac Fires in southern California, BWB San Diego coordinated a series of work days to help clean up the damage.

It was a busy year for BWB, and the 21st century promises to provide even greater climate-driven challenges. Through community organizing, the principles of Immediacy and Civic Responsibility, and Burners’ uncanny ability to deploy tactical miracles like BWB’s Mobile Resource Unit makerspace, our community passed the test in 2017. As real as this year’s recovery work was, it also served as training, both for BWB responders and the communities they served. On a long-enough timeline, any community is likely to endure disaster, and BWB is teaching people how to become more resilient and better prepared before disaster strikes.

The work of Burners Without Borders is only made possible through dedicated volunteers and donations. In 2017, more than one hundred supporters contributed donations in support of BWB, and thousands of volunteers donated their time.