Man Ran Into Fire At Burning Man Festival In Nevada And Died

A man has died after running into the towering blaze for which Burning Man is named, according to the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada. Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, an American living in Switzerland, ran into the flames during the burning of giant wooden effigy.

According to Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen speaking with the Associated Press, the man ran through two layers of security officers at 10:30 pm that night and later died at the UC Davis hospital burn center after being rescued by firefighters. He was one of thousands at the annual gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, about 120 miles north of Reno. The weeklong event of pop-up installations culminates in massive burns of an effigy known as the “Man” on Saturday and the “Temple” on Sunday.

The nine-day event culminates with the burning of a towering 40-foot effigy made of wood. Attendees have tried to run into the flames as a symbol of rebirth. Festival organizers didn’t immediately respond when asked for comment.

In a statement shared by the festival Sunday night, officials note that rescuers had to initially “leave [Mitchell] to allow the structure to fall and provide for rescuer safety before they could go back into the flames to extract Aaron from the debris.”

Mitchell was a US citizen who lived in Switzerland with his wife, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said in a Sunday night statement. He was airlifted to the nearest burn center, at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California. He was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday morning, and his family has been notified, the sheriff’s office said.

According to medical staff, Mitchell was not under the influence of alcohol and a toxicology screening is pending, the sheriff’s office said. An investigation continues but the mass exodus of participants Sunday night made it increasingly difficult to gather information, Allen said.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to Aaron’s family during this unexpected tragedy,” Allen said in a statement. He called it a tragedy for all “burners,” as followers of Burning Man are called — especially 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,” the statement said.

Also Allen told:

We don’t know if it was intentional on his part or if it was just kind of induced by drugs. We’re not sure of that yet.

The sheriff’s office said:

Rescuers had to leave him to allow the structure to fall and provide for rescuer safety before they could go back into the flames to extract Aaron from the debris.

Allen explained that:

People try to run into the fire as part of their spiritual portion of Burning Man. The significance of the man burning, it’s just kind of a rebirth, they burn the man to the ground, a new chapter has started. It’s part of their tenets of radical self-expression.

Despite the weight of this tragedy, Burning Man organizers said that they “still plan to hold the Nevada festival’s famed temple burning event,” even under such horrific circumstances. Though they had “cancelled burns through noon Sunday,” the festival plans to proceed with the 8 pm temple burn, which “signals the end of the nine-day festival.”