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Man dies at Burning Man Festival after throwing himself into burning effigy

A man has tragically lost his life after jumping into the flames of a burning statue at the 2017 Burning Man Festival.

The Pershing County Sheriff's Office confirmed that 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell, a US citizen who lived in Switzerland with his wife, was among the estimated 50,000-strong crowd at the festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, which is located around 120 miles from Reno. He found his way through two layers of security and ran straight for the flames of the Burning Man effigy, ultimately leading to his death.

alt Credit: USA TODAY

Held every year since 1986 (moving from San Francisco to Nevada in 1990), Burning Man is a festival described as an experiment in community and art, championing principles such as radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression. Occurring between the last Sunday of August and the first Monday of September, the festival takes its name from the burning of a massive effigy on the Saturday evening.

At this year's event, Aaron Joel Mitchell ran straight for the eponymous burning man, breaking through two levels of security guard in the process. Fire personnel attempted to retrieve Mitchell from the flames, but were kept at bay by falling sections of the giant effigy.

alt Credit: Reno Gazette-Journal

Eventually, Mitchell was retrieved from the flames, and airlifted to the nearest burn ward, the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California. He was pronounced dead on Sunday morning, and the Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen says that his family has been notified of his passing.

In a statement, Allen described Mitchell's death as a tragedy for all "burners", the colloquial name for attendees at the festival, especially the younger people "who are allowed to attend the festival and may not have the same coping skills as adults do when they see something this tragic happen before their eyes".

In the wake of the tragedy, Burning Man cancelled events through Sunday noon, but are expected to continue with the "Temple" event that usually occurs on the Sunday evening before the end of the event.

In a statement, the Burning Man Community paid tribute to Aaron Mitchell and his family, and announced they will providing emotional support to anyone affected by the tragedy.

"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."

In the wake of the accident, Burning Man also announced they were working with local and federal law enforcement agencies, aiding them in an ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry confirmed that Mitchell contained no alcohol in his system, though a toxicology report is yet to be concluded.

"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."

Our thoughts are with Aaron Joel Mitchell's family at this very difficult time.