Black Rock City – Despite upgraded and enhanced security measures, a nightmare occured at this years Burning Man. Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, stunned onlookers as he dodged security to throw himself into the raging flames of a massive effigy being burned in front of thousands of people in Nevada on Saturday. The surprising part is that he was chased by fire rescue officers but they were unable to stop him – after he jumped security fences and had to dodge a number of security personnel to reach the flames. Burning Man had agreed to enact enhanced safety measures. Firefighters and other rescue crews chased Mitchell who slipped through the safety perimeter and sprinted for the flames at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. “Rescuers had to leave him to allow the structure to fall,” according to a Pershing County Sheriff’s Office statement. Police said Mitchell was an Oklahoma resident living in Switzerland with his wife. Mitchell suffered burns that left him dead just hours later.
The LA Times reported that: Nevada’s Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen estimated that there was a crowd of about 50,000 people who were present when the festival’s crew of firefighters pulled Mitchell from the blaze. He was airlifted to the UC Davis Burn Center in California, where he died Sunday morning. The sheriff said doctors confirmed that Mitchell wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, but a toxicology report is pending.
The LA Times also reported an interesting observation made by the Sheriff: “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 tenants of radical self-expression.”
Attendees have tried before to run into the flames and organizers have tried to contain the problem by having their own Rangers stage a human chain to prevent people from entering the fire.
Some 70,000 people attend Burning Man annually which features the burning of a giant wooden effigy each year, that reaches 50 feet into the air.
His distraught parents refused to believe Joel committed suicide telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “We really don’t know what happened. His friends aren’t talking,” said his father, Don Mitchell. “The coroner asked us if he was depressed and we said no. He was really a happy guy. Maybe he was slipped something. We really don’t know. He was always very cautious about what he ate.”
His Mother, Johnnye Mitchell said, Joel, was “loving and nice person. We are just in shock, total shock. We can’t believe this happened. He was in great spirits when we saw him.”
Mitchell’s mother told the Review-Journal that her son was a first time burner and last saw him before an eclipse party in Oregon. Although alcohol was not involved – A complete toxicology report is pending.
And Burning Man has issued the following statement:
At 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 ran into a fire. Black Rock City fire personnel rescued him from the fire.
The individual was treated on scene, transported to the on-site medical facility and airlifted to a burn treatment center.
We will share more information as it becomes available.
And an updated;
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, succumbed Sunday morning to injuries suffered after breaking through a safety perimeter Saturday night and running into a fire at the annual Burning Man event in northern Nevada.
Mr. Mitchell’s family has been advised of his death. Burning Man is working with local and federal law enforcement agencies, and an investigation is currently ongoing.
After being pulled from the fire by Black Rock City fire personnel, Mr. Mitchell was treated on scene, transported to the on-site medical facility, and airlifted to UC Davis Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center. He succumbed after arriving at the burn center.
The Burning Man organization canceled scheduled burns through noon Sunday but will proceed with the scheduled Temple burn at 8 p.m. Sunday night.
We’re aware this incident has affected not only those who responded immediately on the scene, but also those who witnessed it, and our Black Rock City community more broadly. We are working to make resources available to those affected. Here are some available now:
Emotional support teams have been made available to participants and staff. For people on playa, the Zendo Project is providing peer counseling at their space at 5:15 & A. Support staff from our Emergency Services Department’s Crisis Intervention Team are stationed at 3:00 & C, 9:00 & C, and 5:30 & Esplanade. Please seek them out.
If you are not on playa and are feeling the need to talk to someone, don’t wait. You can reach 24/7 crisis and suicide hotlines at 1-800-273-8255 or 775-784-8090. You can also text LISTEN to 839863.