BLACK ROCK CITY — Around the charred yet still standing remains of The Man, the giant wooden statue literally at the center of the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, workers from the organizer's Department of Public Works are cordoning off the platform and pavilion on which The Man rests, preparing to salvage what they can. The plan is to rebuild the statue in time for Saturday's planned demolition. Soft weeping can be heard in the vicinity, as well as mumbled vows for vengeance. Since the whole point of the festival is the buildup to the official burn, last night's arson attempt is more than a disappointment to most. A few are cursing for a different reason, mostly because they have fostered intricate plans to burn The Man early for years now, but just never got around to pulling it off. Reportedly, the dastardly villain who torched the man was one Paul Addis, a well-known denizen of the San Francisco art scene, longtime Burner, and one heck of a loose cannon.
The facts as they stand are thus: Addis climbed to the left foot of the man armed with fireworks of some kind, lit them, and set The Man prematurely aflame. Local police now have him in custody, and word is that Burning Man organizers are going to press charges to the fullest.
We speculate that had it been up to Burning Man's Department of Public Works, the notoriously hardcore, grizzled crew that spends months in the desert to construct, tear down, and clean up Black Rock City, the perp would have been hogtied with electroluminescent wire — a popular art-car decoration — and torn to shreds by a sunburned, stinky, enraged mob underneath The Man's smoldering embers. But for now, vigilantes do not rule the streets of Burning Man.
Rick Abruzzo, an acquaintance of Addis (and former Valleywag correspondent), mentioned that Addis had been asking for a flare gun or similar object the evening before The Man lit up. Not that anyone obliged. Acquaintances say of Addis, "He has all the ambition to be a Hunter S. Thompson, but without the elegance."
One witness, who also did not wish to be named, said she actually saw Addis setting the blaze, and was told that he had been bragging about it beforehand to some campmates. The campmates were apparently also the ones who turned him in.
The Man lit up close to 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, amid screams of horror and enthusiasm. Emergency crews plowed their way through gawking bicyclists, art car drivers, naked people, fire spinners, and assorted other playatards, and fought the blaze, dowsing the area in water before attacking the fire itself. The crowd was evenly split between bloodthirsty chanting of "Burn The Man!" and lamenting that their mellow was, like, totally being harshed.
Organizers on Burning Man Information Radio, the local, temporary broadcaster, state that they have the resolve and the material to rebuild the man in time for Saturday's destined incineration. Sources say that they are inspecting the underlying structure for water and fire damage, and will begin rebuilding today.