The Burning Man prematurely turned into burnt man early Tuesday morning after a San Francisco resident torched the iconic lodestar of the massive counterculture event, sparking an atypically bloodthirsty reaction in the peaceful desert throng.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada confirmed that Paul Addis, 35, was arrested Tuesday morning on charges of arson and possession of fireworks related to the scorching of the wooden effigy, eponymous with the annual pre-Labor Day event known far and wide as Burning Man.
Though the roughly 80-foot man is designed to go up in flames anyway, his premature immolation sent shock waves — and a serious harshing of the vaunted Burning Man mellow — through Black Rock City, the makeshift city in the Black Rock Desert built and dismantled by tens of thousands of revelers every year.
The offense drew something akin to a lynch mob seeking retribution against Addis, which had to be contained, participant and Man-building team member Matthew “Metric” Ebert said.
“People are a little alarmed,” said Ebert, a 10-year Burning Man veteran from Gerlach, Nev. “There were dozens of witnesses — I don’t know what he thought he was doing. It’s a very selfish and adolescent act. People wanted to have their way with him, but, hey — karma’s a bitch.”
The Man has seen a handful of small, accidental singes over the years, but nothing this extensive. The last incident in which he was accosted was severalyears ago, when someone attempted to steal his head and sell it on the Internet, according to JoLynn Worley, spokeswoman for the Nevada office of the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns the public land on which Burning Man is held.
A Sheriff’s Office dispatcher said the torching was allegedly meant to coincide with the darkest moment of the lunar eclipse, which many at the event were watching when The Man went up in flames at 3 a.m. Firefighters were able to contain the fire in approximately half an hour.
Worley said the agency was made aware of the burning soon after it happened. Black Rock Rangers — peacekeepers in the Burning Man community — apprehended and held Addis until Pershing County sheriff’s deputies arrived.
A wooden structure covered with neon lights, wax and burlap, The Man was scheduled to go up in flames Saturday. Water damage from fire hoses was visible on Green Man Pavilion, a section under The Man that showcases a number of artistic displays that are some of the main attractions of the event, Ebert said.
“The Man may be the center of attention, but as much as he is the center, the event is less about The Man and more about everyone else,” Ebert said. “There’s plenty out there to enjoy.”