Burning Man flame effects specialist DaveX on how to play with fire -- safely

Categories: Visual Arts

Photo courtesy of DaveX.
As members of Burning Man's Fire Arts Safety Team, DaveX and Eric Smith are combined experts in the fields of pyrotechics and flame effects. Together, Smith, chief inspector for the state of Nevada LP-Gas Board, and DaveX, licensed California pyrotechnic operator, saw a need for safety education in the design and execution of fire art.

This weekend, Smith and DaveX will teach a two-day workshop on these topics at The Fusion Factory, along with a Saturday evening meet-and-greet at Trace Gallery. In advance of these gatherings, DaveX spoke with Westword about his fourteen years overseeing fire arts at Burning Man and his certification in the world of flame effects.

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Westword: What does it mean to be a flame effects specialist?

DaveX: Well, I've been working for years within the pyrotechnics industry; I'm a licensed California pyrotechnic operator. I've been working for the last fourteen years managing all the fire projects that come in through Burning Man, managing a team called the Fire Arts Safety Team at Burning Man. We review all the flame effects that go on and pyrotechnic and structure burns and give artists feedback.

Having done both the pyrotechnic role and the flame effects review, I realized there was a need for education in that field; there's really no particular source on the Internet for information about this kind of stuff. My partner and I, Eric Smith -- his name is Propaniac at Burning Man, he's the chief inspector for the state of Nevada LP-Gas Board -- realized that together, we could present an educational course to inform people on how to construct and operate flame effects in a way that met industry standards. There are various standards for different aspects of this -- but from the pyrotechnic industry and from the LP-Gas industry that could be combined into a course, one that could be taught to artists that are looking to incorporate flame effects into their art.

I'm doing this class outside of Burning Man -- this is not a class that's put on by Burning Man, but any means. It's just using my experience that I've gathered over the years as a manager in the field.

How did you get into flame effects and get certified and trained in the capacity that you are?

There are many lines that converged into this: like I said, I worked for fourteen years at Burning Man doing this kind of stuff. And in that role, people would apply with all kinds of projects, and I had the opportunity to review them. There are hundreds of fire art projects that come into Burning Man every year. Each person has a little specialty -- maybe they understand fireworks or maybe they have a specialty in some sort of fire effect. Maybe they've burned some structure at Burning Man before.

Eric Smith, A.K.A Propaniac.
In my position, I'm sort of at the center of the wagon wheel, where they all would have to make applications to me, draw up diagrams and schematics and explain to me how all of these things work. Through that, I would gain understanding of how all the different systems -- whether it was open fire and burning structures or flame effects or pyrotechnics -- works.

Then, about ten years ago, I started working with a company called Pyro Spectaculars here in the Bay Area, and we do a lot of fireworks displays for the (Oakland) A's and the Giants baseball teams. I just helped out on a fireworks show for the big Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary. So in working with them, they trained me as well in the use of pyrotechnics.

I also then discovered Eric Smith -- in using all these flame effects at Burning Man, we came to a point where I realized that we needed to meet industry standards as far as a the LP-Gas effects stuff was concerned. So I went and took a course from Eric Smith at the Board's certified employee training program. Then I realized that he actually kind of was one of us, in a way. I invited him to come to Burning Man and experience what was going on there, and it really sparked his imagination.

If you can imagine, someone who's chief inspector for the LP-Gas Board for the state of Nevada -- in regular life, if you go into a bar and say "I'm the chief inspector for the LP-Gas Board for the state of Nevada" that means almost nothing. But if you go to an event like Burning Man, and you say that, you're almost like a god among men; people come around you and want to know more. He really found his own place within that community to really grow and expand. Together, we realized we were a great team.

Location Info


Fusion Factory

3563 Walnut St., Denver, CO

Category: General

Trace Gallery

3700 Franklin St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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