Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, in a recent photograph supplied to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, in a recent photograph supplied to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Details of Burning Man victim

THE mother of a man who died after running into a flaming effigy at the Burning Man festival in Nevada says it was his first time at the event.

Graphic photographs show Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, running full force into the inferno as security and fire rescue officers try in vain to stop him.

"We are just in shock, total shock," his mother Johnnye Mitchell told the Reno Gazette Journal. "We can't believe this happened."

Ms Mitchell said staff at California's UC Davis Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center called her early Sunday morning to notify her of his death.

She said Joel - as he was called by his family - had seemed happy when she saw him on August 1, just before he set off to an Eclipse festival in Oregon.

"He was in great spirits when we saw him," Ms Mitchell said.

He told her of his plans to attend Burning Man with a group of friends and that it would be his first time attending the event.

Aaron Joel Mitchell died hours after running full force into the Burning Man effigy. Picture: Reuters Jim Bourg
Aaron Joel Mitchell died hours after running full force into the Burning Man effigy. Picture: Reuters Jim Bourg

Ms Mitchell said her son grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma but had been living in Switzerland where he worked in the construction industry. He was married to a Swiss woman but the couple had no children, she said.

"He's 41, but they are always your baby," she told the Journal.

"He was loving and a nice person," she said.

"Joel liked hiking and outdoors, running."

Police are investigating Mr Mitchell's horrific death, which was witnessed by hundreds of fellow revellers.

Photographs show the long-haired man racing toward the fire, dodging multiple safety rangers trying to chase him down, and then plunging into the flames.

Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen Mr Mitchell ran through two-layers of security officers at about 10:30 pm on Saturday during the Man Burn event at the counterculture festival.

He was dragged from the flames by firefighters and then airlifted to the hospital.

An estimated 70,000 people have attended this year's Burning Man art and music celebration in the Black Rock Desert, which ends today.

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 on Sunday.

Attendees have tried before to run into the flames while the man 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.

According to festival organisers, there are three types of people most likely to rush towards the fire and security staff are trained to spot them before the figure is set alight. They include: those seeking attention, such as streakers; people who are so high on drugs or drunk that they don't understand the danger; and the suicidal.

Sheriff Allen said organisers have tried to contain the problem by having their own rangers stage a human-chain to prevent people from accessing the fire. He said Mr Mitchell was the first person to have brken all the way through and the only fatality he had seen in 15 years on the job.

"People try to run into the fire as part of their spiritual portion of Burning Man," he 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."

Organisers cancelled scheduled "burns" throughout the site but confirmed the highly anticipated Temple burn at 8pm local time would go ahead.

In the meantime, revellers were urged to take advantage of on-site trauma counsellors, look out for one another and catch up on sleep.

"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," Burning Man said in a statement posted to its site.

"We are working to make resources available to those affected. Emotional support teams have been made available to participants and staff.

"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.

"Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins and sleep."

News Corp Australia


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