The man who ran into an inferno at the Burning Man festival has died, according to news reports on Sunday, just after the annual nine-day event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert came to a close.
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, was reportedly not intoxicated when he bolted through two layers of security officers and into an effigy at the famous event on Saturday night, said Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen. A feature of the gathering, which attracted more than 70,000 attendees this year, is that people build a new city from scratch and then dismantle or burn everything before leaving.
State troopers and local law enforcement surrounded the “burning man” this year out of fear that someone would commit suicide, or that injuries would occur if the crowd got out of control, but they weren’t able to corral Mitchell who ran right into the massive, fiery, wooden structure.
The festival issued a statement via its website: “Approximately 10:30 p.m. Saturday evening, a male participant at the annual Burning Man event in Northern Nevada broke through a safety perimeter and into into a fire. Black Rock City fire personnel rescued him from the fire.”
Mitchell was airlifted to the UC Davis Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center 300 miles away, according to a statement by Burning Man’s organizers.
He died shortly after arriving at the burn center on Sunday morning.
Officials said attempts to rescue Mitchell from the flames were obstructed because parts of the effigy were falling and firefighters had to wait for the structure to fall before saving him, according to the AP.
Mitchell was an American citizen who was living in Switzerland with his wife, Allen said. This was his first time at Burning Man, Mitchell’s mother Johnnye Mitchell told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Event organizers canceled scheduled “burns” on Sunday afternoon but carried out its final burn of a massive wooden temple in the evening, Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
Federal officials originally wanted the Burning Man organizers to call the finale off, but organizers proceeded anyway, this time with the added security of a metal fence and more than 600 volunteers and staff surrounding the structure.
“We are showing the government we can step forward,” Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It is a testament to our spirit. We have a ritual to complete.”
Doctors said Mitchell wasn’t under the influence of alcohol at the time, but a toxicology report is pending, Allen said.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Aaron’s family during this unexpected tragedy,” he added, particularly “for juveniles who are allowed to attend the festival and may not have the same coping skills as adults do when they see something this tragic happen before their eyes.”
Emotional support teams have been made available for participants and staff on site, Burning Man said in its statement.
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