A Burning Man Attendee Died After Running Into The Festival’s Burning Effigy

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The annual Burning Man festival featured tragedy near the end of their 2017 event. During Saturday night’s burning ceremony that sees the giant wooden effigy set ablaze, 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell broke through security and ran directly into the flames. According to The Guardian, the structure itself hampered attempts to rescue Mitchell and rescue crews had to wait until the structure had collapsed to provide aid to the victim:

Jerry Allen, the sheriff of Pershing county in Nevada, estimated there were about 50,000 people present when the festival’s crew of firefighters pulled Mitchell out of the blaze. He was airlifted to the UC Davis hospital burn centre in California, but died on Sunday morning. The sheriff said doctors confirmed Mitchell was not under the influence of alcohol, but a toxicology report is pending.

“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,” Allen said.

Mitchell was a U.S. citizen from Oklahoma that had been living in Switzerland before the event according to The Guardian, but authorities had trouble getting more information about the incident as people left the area. As a result, the festival canceled burning events for Sunday, only maintaining the ceremonial temple burn to close out the night and bring the gathering to a close. The organizers also offered counseling on site and released a statement addressing the situation:

“Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins, and sleep.”

Sheriff Allen added that many people try to run into the fire every year, mostly to retrieve pieces of the structure for souvenirs and to celebrate the moment itself according to The Guardian:

“People try to run into the fire as part of their spiritual portion of Burning Man,” Allen said. “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.”

It’s a sad note to end what had been another inspiring and interesting Burning Man festival.

(Via The Guardian)