It didn’t take long, but the fiasco surrounding night one of the Ultra Music Festival has already been branded “Fyre Festival 2,” fueled in part by forecasts of a so-called “traffic apocalypse” that ultimately proved to be true.
The massive electronic music event held near Miami ended in pandemonium when a fire broke out, stranding tens of thousands of attendees on an island without transportation. Some had to walk over an hour to the mainland in the dead of night. And there are still two more nights to go.
“This was my first year attending the Ultra,” a Twitter user named Kailey wrote in an online statement. “Getting there was easy as fuck and the festival itself wasn’t bad but leaving there was fucking TERRIBLE and we won’t be attending the next days.”
The City of Miami Police did not respond to requests for comment. The Daily Beast also reached out to the Miami-Dade Transportation Department and representatives from Ultra Music Festival.
A spokesperson with City of Miami Fire & Rescue, told the Daily Beast that firefighters had extinguished the fire around 2:30 a.m. “The fire damage was limited to the brush in that area There was no damage to the Ultra music festival equipment along the fence. There were no injuries reported,” Capt. Ignatius Carroll said.
In an official statement on Twitter, Ultra, which hosts festivals in 26 cities around the world each year, apologized for the confusion and mass chaos, while promising to fix issues for the two remaining nights.
“Last night, many of you experienced challenging transportation conditions leaving the festival. This is unacceptable and inconsistent with the high standards you have come to expect from us. For this, we are sorry,” organizers wrote Saturday afternoon.
“As you might expect, we have already been working cooperatively with our city and county partners to promptly address and resolve these issues. We look forward to offering you a significantly improved transportation experience today and throughout the weekend, and we appreciate the opportunity to earn back your confidence and trust.”
Organizers later wrote again to say they were “hard at work ensuring a smooth transportation experience,” including by allocating “additional resources” to “enhanced training for ALL transportation staff and volunteers.”
The three-day music event was held on Virginia Key, a tiny island directly south of Miami Beach, attached to the shore by a long, two-lane bridge. The festival had commissioned some 200 buses, each big enough to hold 55 people, to shuttle concert-goers from the venue to three hubs on the mainland, where attendees could hail ride shares or hop onto public transport. But starting in the late evening Friday, according to reports from the Miami Herald, logistics began to unravel. Lines for buses involved half-hour waits, if not longer. Guests started getting angry.
Congestion only got worse when the festival ended at 2 a.m., sending tens of thousands of visitors out into the parking lot, where law enforcement was already struggling to maintain order. Joey Flechas, a reporter covering the event for the Herald, saw one attendee glance at this phone: “It’s a 58 minute walk.”
The confusion compounded when a palm tree erupted into flames, causing a massive fire in a fenced-off section between the stages and the highway. Some suspected the fire started from a rogue firework ember.
“We have not determined the cause of the fire. But the fire was noticed after the fireworks finale,” Capt. Ignatius Caroll of Miami Fire & Rescue told the Daily Beast. “We’re going to look into whether that had something to do with it. But it’s not uncommon for people to throw cigarettes into the brush.”
In a statement Saturday morning, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, whose jurisdiction includes the fairgrounds, said that the festival would not use fireworks for the remainder of the weekend.
As disorder mounted, people began to try and make their way back by foot, but many were halted by police, and forced to wait for the shuttle. “So we get in the line to just wait for a shuttle bus,” Kailey continued in her statement. “Almost an hour and a half later people start screaming that there’s no point in waiting for one because it’s going to take up to four hours...They shut down all the shuttles because people were getting angry with the mass confusion. Banging on the buses to just let people in. We probably watched 20 buses pass us with absolutely no one in them. It was straight chaos.”
Even after the pilgrims arrived on shore, the wait for a rideshare stretched over an hour.
On its website Ultra writes: “We have consulted and worked alongside some of the industry’s most qualified traffic mitigation and logistics professionals to ensure the smoothest transportation experience possible both to and from the event.”
The multimillion dollar music corporation has been struggling to keep its flagship event in Miami. The controversial three-day festival was kicked out of its standard home in downtown Miami over noise complaints and traffic congestion that comes with having 80,000 attendees.
But their new location proved equally contentious, as the island’s narrow bridge spelled a recipe for what Miami New Times called, prophetically, a “traffic apocalypse.”
The fairgrounds are also located immediately next to a federally protected wildlife conservation.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, environmental non-profits told New Times that the festival’s protections were “completely insufficient.”
In a statement on Thursday, Ultra’s attorney Rafe Petersen claimed the event organizers were “committed to environmental protection and will implement numerous environmental mitigation measures as well as a sustainability plan that will ensure the protection of Virginia Key.” But the fire and hordes of stranded tourists left some to wonder if their promise had been upheld.
Early Saturday morning, Ray Martinez, chief of security for the festival, appeared alone in a press conference on the festival’s press yacht, according to Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks. Martinez tried to frame the fiasco in the positive. “It was a beautiful night. It was a great night to walk over the bridge, with the water on both sides.”
Martinez also promised to increase shuttle service and reserve a lane of traffic exclusively for buses.
It’s one solution; concert-goers may have come up with another: “I will NEVER attend Ultra again,” Kailey wrote.