Sept. 4 (UPI) — A man attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada died Sunday after he reportedly ran into a large fire, part of the annual festival’s climax.
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 42, ran past security and fire officials and into the blaze of a 40-foot wooden statue that is purposely set on fire each year as part of the festivities on Saturday night, reported the Reno Gazette Journal.
The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said that pieces of the statue were beginning to fall, which hindered efforts to pull Mitchell out of the fire.
“Rescuers had to leave him to allow the structure to fall and provide for rescuer safety before they could go back into the flames to extract Aaron from the debris,” the PCSO said in a statement.
Rescuers were eventually able to pull Mitchell out of the fire and he was airlifted to the nearest burn center, at the University of California at Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., reported CNN. He was pronounced dead hours later.
The PCSO said no alcohol was in his system. A toxicology test for other substances is pending.
“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,” the Burning Man organization said in a statement. “We are working to make resources available to those affected.”
Mitchell was a U.S. citizen from Oklahoma but was currently living in Switzerland. His mother, Johnnye Mitchell, said he was in “great spirits” when she saw him last month.
“He was loving and a nice person,” she said. “Joel liked hiking and outdoors, running.”
“You just never want something like this to happen,” said his father, Donald Mitchell.