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The Man burned on Monday

At the annual Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada, someone set the tall wooden Man figure on fire days early, just as the moon was in full eclipse.

BLACK ROCK CITY, Nevada--The Man burned Monday night. Seriously.

For years at Burning Man, the joke has been, "We should burn the Man on Wednesday."

The Man
Credit: Elinor Mills/CNET
The Man, not yet on fire, in 2005.

The Man, of course, is the tall wooden figure at the center of the annual countercultural arts festival.

Well, late Monday night--OK, early Tuesday morning--the mantra came true.

As groups of people were gathered around, watching the eclipse of the moon, just as the moon went into full eclipse, word--which I listened to--started to filter across "Com," the official Burning Man organizational radio communications system, that someone had set the Man ablaze.

In the first moments, it sounded like a joke. But within a minute, the reports were that one of the Man's legs was on fire.

People in earshot of the radio--carried by many volunteers and staff members--rushed to places where they could see if the reports were true. They almost completely forgot that the eclipse was happening.

And within the shortest period of time--maybe five minutes, the wooden figure was completely engulfed.

On Com, most of the officials discussing what to do were remarkably calm. I was impressed, though, of course, that this has to have been a contingency that has been rehearsed again and again.

Still, it took several minutes before fire crews were able to get water onto the Man, and it is likely that, though it did not fall, it is irretrievably damaged.

As a reporter, I apologize for not being able to provide a photograph, but the burning took place so quickly, there wasn't time to grab my camera.

In any case, perhaps the most poignant moment of all, however, was when Crimson Rose, one of the six people on the Burning Man board that runs the event and the person in charge of the Man, said, on Com, "I want that asshole arrested....And I want the first shot."