Man dies after jumping into fire of 40ft flaming statue at Burning Man Festival

Around 50,000 were present as the tragedy took place

A man has died after jumping into the fire of a flaming statue at the signature ceremony at Burning Man Festival 2017.

On Saturday evening, 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell charged through two layers of security during the annual ‘Man Burn’ event, in which a giant 40ft wooden effigy of a man is set on fire. After being airlifted to a hospital, the burns and injuries that Mr Mitchell received led to his death just hours later on early Sunday morning. Photos have also emerged online across various news outlets of the attempted rescue of Mr Mitchell.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, an estimated 50,000 were present as firefighters attempted to pull him from the flames.


“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,” said the Nevada County Sheriff’s office in a statement.

Counselling is being offered to those who witnessed the incident.

Burning Man 2017 Preparations
Aug 29, 2017; Black Rock City, NV, USA; Hundreds of dancers congregate around a mobile DJ sound bus in the middle of the desert at Burning Man as the sun rises on Tuesday morning. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY

Read the full statement from Burning Man below:

“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,” said the festival in a statement.

“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 cancelled scheduled burns through noon Sunday but will proceed with the scheduled Temple burn at 8p.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 counselling 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”.”

Burners gather around a giant tree sculpture at sunset on the playa as the annual desert festival Burning Man closes the first day
Burning Man Festival, Nevada, USA – 27 Aug 2017

Mitchell was a U.S. citizen who had lived in Oklahoma but was said to currently be Switzerland with his wife. While police say he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, they are currently awaiting the results of a toxicology report.

Nevada’s Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said: “We don’t know if it was intentional on his part or if it was just kind of induced by drugs. We’re not sure of that yet.”


He added: “People try to run into the fire as part of their spiritual portion of Burning Man. 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 tenets of radical self-expression.”

Allen said that people had often attempted to approach the flames in the past, and that while there had been injuries before, this was the first fatality at the festival during his 15 years with Nevada County Police.