BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev. — A co-founder of the Burning Man countercultural festival has said U.S. officials urged event organizers to cancel a Sunday burning ceremony or beef up security after a man died from a fire the night before.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported (http://on.rgj.com/2j0Havq ) that Burning Man co-founder Crimson Rose said the Bureau of Land Management intervened in light of the death of Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41.
Authorities said Mitchell died hours after he hurled past two layers of security Saturday night during the festival’s signature Man Burn, when a towering 40-foot, wooden effigy is burned as a symbol of rebirth. The Pershing County sheriff’s office said doctors confirmed Mitchell wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, but a toxicology report is pending.
Rose said the land management bureau urged organizers to cancel the Sunday night burning of a temple but allowed the event on the condition that the festival set up a metal fence and deploy 350 security guards to prevent people from approaching the fire.
Kyle Hendrix, a spokesman for the land management bureau, did not respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.
The temple burn signals the end of the nine-day festival. More than 70,000 people were expected to camp out at the Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Reno for the event known for eclectic artwork, offbeat theme camps, concerts and other entertainment. Burning Man ended Monday.
Rose also said it was unclear whether Mitchell was running directly into the fire or if he fell into it while running toward security officers guarding the perimeter. The death is under investigation.
Festival goers have tried before to run into the flames and there have been reported injuries from people trying to take pieces of the spectacle as tokens, treading through hot coals so they can get close enough to do so.
Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said it is a problem that the organizers have tried to contain by having their own rangers stage a human-chain to prevent people from getting close to the fire.
On Saturday, attempts to rescue Mitchell were hindered because part of the burning structure was falling while people were trying to get Mitchell out.
His mother, Johnnye Mitchell, said her son was living in Switzerland and grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma. He worked in construction and was known by his middle name.
“He was loving and a nice person,” his mother said. “Joel liked hiking and outdoors, running.”
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com