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Burning Man Torched Early; Performance Artist In Custody

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Burning Man became Burnt Man four days early on Tuesday, and a San Francisco performance artist was arrested on suspicion of igniting the signature figure of the counterculture festival in the remote Nevada desert.

The early morning fire scorched about 85 percent of the structure, Burning Man spokeswoman Andie Grace said. Event engineers decided it would be best to dismantle it and rebuild a less elaborate version, accomplishing in two days what normally takes weeks so the figure would be finished in time for Saturday night's scheduled burning, she said.

The approximately 40-foot-tall wood and neon structure was supposed to go up in flames in the ceremonial climax of the weeklong annual event. Burning Man, an art, music and performance festival that draws thousands of people, began in San Francisco in 1986 and moved to Nevada's Black Rock Desert in 1990.

Many festival-goers who were awake watching Tuesday's lunar eclipse said they saw a man deliberately ignite the figure at about 3 a.m., Grace said.

"It was in plain sight of many people," she said. "Everyone is looking at it this morning, this big black figure in the sky and that wasn't supposed to burn, saying, 'Now what do we do?'"

No injuries were reported, and the festival's in-house fire department, the Black Rock City Emergency Services Department, extinguished the fire in less than half an hour, Grace said. The fire also damaged part of the Green Man Pavilion, the exhibition space on which the figure was perched, Grace said.

Paul Addis, 35, of San Francisco, was booked into the Pershing County, Nev., jail on suspicion of arson, illegal possession of fireworks, destruction of property and resisting a public officer, according to the sheriff's department. He posted a $25,632 bond, a sheriff's dispatcher said.

Sheriff's officials did not know whether he had a lawyer. No one answered at two phone numbers listed in his name.

Addis is an actor and writer who is active in the San Francisco arts scene and recently portrayed Hunter S. Thompson in a play about the late journalist known for his drug-fueled lifestyle, according to entertainment listings posted on the Internet.

Grace said she assumed the early burn was timed to coincide with the eclipse.

"It's obviously a pretty selfish act, and people are disappointed about that, but spirits overall are pretty high," she said.