Man Rescued From the Flames at Burning Man Festival Has Died

Burning Man’s Singular Art - Scott London - H 2016
Scott London/Race Point Publishing, an Imprint of Quarto Publishing Group

A 41-year-old man ran into the flames during the burning of a towering 40-foot effigy at the festival.

A Nevada sheriff says the man who ran into the flames at the Burning Man festival's signature burning ceremony has died.

Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen identified the man as Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, who died Sunday morning at the UC Davis hospital burn center in California.

Allen said the man ran through two layers of security officers at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday during the Man Burn event at the counterculture festival. The sheriff says Mitchell was rescued by firefighters and then airlifted to the hospital. Reuters published photos (some are graphic) of the man running into the flames.

Allen said doctors confirmed Mitchell wasn't under the influence of alcohol but that a toxicology report is pending as part of the investigation.

About 70,000 people are attending the Burning Man art and music celebration in the Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Reno.

The nine-day festival culminates with the burning of a towering 40-foot effigy made of wood, a symbol of rebirth, which usually happens the Saturday before the Labor Day holiday. It's followed by the burning of a temple Sunday. This year's festival ends Monday.

Attendees have tried before to run into the flames while the effigy is burning and there have been reported injuries from people trying to get a piece of the spectacle as a token and going through the hot coals.

Allen said it's a problem that the organizers have tried to contain by having their own rangers stage a human chain to prevent people from accessing the fire. Allen said that this is the first time someone has gotten through like this and the only fatality that he's aware of in his 15 years with the county.

"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."

Burning Man organizers say they still plan to hold the Nevada festival's famed temple burning even after the death of the man who ran into the flames of its signature Man Burn event.

Organizers said in a statement that they had canceled burns through noon Sunday, but would go ahead with the 8 p.m. temple burn, which signals the end of the nine-day festival.

Organizers are also offering emotional support counseling at the art and music celebration in the Black Rock Desert.