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A San Francisco performance artist has been arrested on suspicion of torching the Burning Man earlier this week - four days before the scheduled incendiary climax of the Nevada desert love-in, AP reports.

Paul Addis, 35, allegedly set fire to the 40-foot-tall figure at around 3am on Tuesday as festival-goers sat up to enjoy the lunar eclipse. Burning Man spokeswoman Andie Grace said witnesses saw a man "deliberately ignite the figure", adding: "It was in plain sight of many people. 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?'"

The Burning Man suffered 85 per cent burns during the incident, prompting organisers to dismantle him and "rebuild a less elaborate version" for the weekend's grand finale. Grace said: "It's obviously a pretty selfish act, and people are disappointed about that, but spirits overall are pretty high."

Addis, meanwhile, was booked into Pershing County jail on suspicion of "arson, illegal possession of fireworks, destruction of property and resisting a public officer". He posted a $25,632 bond, the sherrif's office said. ®

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*That's not strictly true, is it?

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