A first-time Burning Man attendee died yesterday after intentionally running into the flames from the annual festival’s signature 50-foot effigy.
For a yet unknown reason Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, broke through a safety perimeter at the annual nine-day event held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, evaded security and ran into the fire.
After being pulled from the fire by Black Rock City fire personnel, Mitchell was treated on scene, transported to an on-site medical facility, and airlifted to UC Davis Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center. According to a statement by festival organizers, Mitchell died after arriving at the burn center.
Mitchell was reportedly not under the influence of alcohol, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. A complete toxicology report is pending.
Festivalgoer Tolga Catalkaya, a 30-year-old from Amsterdam, said he witnessed the incident.
“We saw a man break through the security circle — running so fast that no one could hold him,” he said in a Facebook message. “He jumped into the fire like head-first with open arms. Then, firefighters dragged him out quickly and the ambulance showed up really quick. I guess that fire was too strong because even if he was just there for 30 seconds it looked like he had no chance to survive.”
Festival organizers released the following statement about the tragedy:
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.
Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins, and sleep. We have found this article helpful for understanding how trauma affects us: “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma”.
Image by Aaron Logan