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, 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.
Mitchell was a US citizen who lived in Switzerland with his wife, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said in a Sunday night statement.
Mitchell’s mother, Johnnye Mitchell, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that her son grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma, but had recently relocated to Switzerland with his wife.
Mitchell broke through two levels of security guards protecting the area where the “Man” was burning on Saturday night. Fire personnel attempted to pull him out but falling portions of the burning structure hindered their efforts. Rescuers had to wait until the structure fell before they could go back into the flames and safely extract him from the debris, the sheriff said.
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.
The Burning Man organization canceled scheduled burns through noon Sunday but planned to proceed with the scheduled Temple burn at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Emotional support teams have been made available to participants and staff, the event’s organizers said on the event website.
“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,” the group said on its website.
“Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins, and sleep.”