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Ultra Music Festival 2019: Fire breaks out on day 1, thousands walk on highway to leave

Several people posted to social media of the fire and of Ultra attendees walking back from Virginia Key to Miami.
Credit: Mark Bergin, WTSP
Tens of thousands of people attended day one of the 2019 Ultra Music Festival at Virginia Key.

MIAMI — It wasn’t quite as dire as the infamous Fyre Festival, but day one of the 21st annual Ultra Music Festival did end in a fire.

Several people posted to social media of the fire and of festivalgoers walking on the Rickenbacker Causeway about three miles from Virginia Key to downtown Miami.

Speaking on behalf of festival organizers, GetIn! spokesperson Stephanie Bromfield estimated about 150,000 people attending Ultra tried to leave Virginia Key around 2 a.m. Saturday.

“It was our first night,” Bromfield said. “It was our first time on the island and there are a lot of things that need to be reevaluated.”

This year marks the first time Virginia Key has hosted Ultra after Bayfront Park held the electronic dance music festival for the past six years.

“The buses were there, but you couldn’t line up 250 buses on the Causeway,” Bromfield said.

Ultra organizers issued the following statement Saturday afternoon:

"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. 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."

Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft were banned from picking anyone up on Virginia Key. Some festival attendees waited hours for buses or taxis to get back to Miami.

No one was hurt in the fire, Bromfield said. Authorities are still working to determine the cause of the fire.

“Most of these kids were from Copenhagen, everywhere else other than America,” Bromfield said about a bus she rode over to Virginia Key.

Ultra organizers are working with the Miami Police Department and Miami Fire Rescue Department to avoid some of the same problems during the next two days, according to the festival's chief of security Ray Martinez.

“Imagine if someone had jumped in the water,” Bromfield said. “They’re 19 and 20-year-olds. They don’t think like me and you. They just don’t think of the dangers.”

Bromfield said she had to leave the festival Friday because she did not have access to WiFi in the media staging area. 10News and several other media outlets also had connection problems.

“That’s one thing we’re adjusting today,” Bromfield said.

It’s one of several adjustments as the festival copes with Virginia Key as a new venue.

Ultra organizers did not provide attendees with hard copies of maps showing the new festival grounds.

10News entered the festival with Australian photographer Katarina Cvetko, who is well-known in the industry for attending 52 festivals in 52 weeks. Security did not check either 10News' or Cvetoko's photography equipment.

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