Authorities are investigating the death of a man who ran through cordons of security officers into a massive fire at the Burning Man festival.
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, broke through a two-layer security perimeter during the Man Burn ceremony in which a giant wooden effigy was set on fire late on Saturday night.
“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,” said Jerry Allen, the sheriff of Pershing county in Nevada.
Allen 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.
Mitchell was a US citizen who had a home in Oklahoma but apparently was living in Switzerland with his wife, the sheriff’s office said.
Burning Man said in a statement that it had cancelled some scheduled fires on Sunday but would go ahead with the 8pm temple burn, another signature event that signals the end of the nine-day festival. More than 70,000 people are attending the art and music celebration in the Black Rock desert, about 100 miles (160km) north of Reno.
Organisers, who were offering counselling on site, said in a statement: “Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins, and sleep.”
The festival culminates with the burning of a towering 12m (40ft) effigy made of wood, a symbol of rebirth, which usually happens the Saturday before the Labor Day holiday. It is followed by the burning of the temple on Sunday and the festivities wrap up on Monday.
Attempts to rescue Mitchell were hampered because part of the structure was falling while emergency staff were trying to reach him, 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,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Investigators were having difficulties getting information because festivalgoers were leaving the site, the law enforcement agency said.
Attendees have tried before to run into the flames while the man is burning and there have been reported injuries from people walking over the hot coals to try to get a piece of the spectacle as a token. Allen said the organisers had tried to address the problem with a human-chain of security staff and this was the first time someone had broken through.
“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.”
Burning Man – known for its eclectic artwork, offbeat theme camps, concerts and other entertainment – began in San Francisco before moving to Nevada in 1990. Over the years as the event grew in popularity, deaths and crime have been reported, ranging from car crashes to drug use.
In 2014, a man in Utah died after jumping into a huge ceremonial bonfire at a similar event. It was investigated as a suicide.
Source: The Guardian