Next week we mark the ten-year anniversary of a night that shall live in infamy for all longtime Burners, when an arsonist set The Man aflame four days early, the night of a lunar eclipse. That year was 2007, and the event made front-page news in the Chronicle, with Black Rock City communications manager Andie Grace telling the paper, "People here are stunned."
Some Burners reportedly pulled up to the prematurely engulfed wooden Man chanting "Let him burn, let him burn!" while others were chanting, "Save the Man, save the Man!" Then seven-time Burner Bob Harms told the Chron, "I am disturbed that the Man is burnt. As I looked at it, I was going, 'This can't be happening.'"
Others compared it to Christmas being ruined.
Burning Man organizers quickly leapt into action, sourcing wood from Reno to try to quickly rebuild the Man in time for the traditional Saturday burn.
And authorities immediately arrested arsonist Paul David Addis, a longtime Burner, who would later be convicted in the act and serve two years in a federal prison in Nevada. Several days after the incident, Addis gave an interview to Wired in which he all but admitted committing the act, and said that organizers had turned the festival into "the Alterna-Disney," and "Burning Man has been nothing about the Burning Man anymore except for burning the Man." He added, "It has more to do with raising money than spreading the theory of community so we can all live together," and he railed at the number of people who now arrived in gas-guzzling RVs.
Addis returned to Burning Man in 2007 after a 9-year hiatus, having decided it was no longer "worth it" and had already jumped the shark in 1998.
Two months after the early torching of The Man, Addis would be accused in an attempted arson at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Following his prison term, Addis would return to SF with a one-man performance piece titled Dystopian Veneer in 2010, a promo for which you can see in the video below. In it, he said, "San Francisco used to be a bright shining beacon to the rest of America and the world that the American Dream isn't exactly what everybody thinks it is or could be. The kind of place where you could provoke, inspire, offend from the stage, all over town. And yet that's not really happening around here right now. To all of you who came out here in the last few years thinking 'This is the place to really make it happen, to push it over the edge, to take it as far as you can go in free speech, in liberty, in living... I'm talking to you right now. We need you. We need to hear your voices. We need to see you take those risks."
Sadly in 2012, at the age of 40, Addis would take his own life by jumping in front of a westbound BART train at Embarcadero Station.