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Police are investigating the death of a man who evaded security at Burning Man and launched himself into the fire during the US festival’s signature ceremony.
According to officials the man, identified as 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell, ran past two layers of security at the Man Burn celebration – during which a giant wooden effigy is set ablaze.
He was airlifted to a burns centre in California but was pronounced dead a few hours later.
Graphic images taken at the ceremony show the horrifying moment Mr Mitchell dodged past a chasing firefighter and leapt, feet-first, into the middle of the huge bonfire.
Festival officials said Mr Mitchell had avoided several rangers and law enforcement officers who attempted to tackle him to the ground before he jumped.
Police said doctors confirmed he hadn’t been under the influence of alcohol at the time, but a toxicology report is pending.
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 estimated that there was a crowd of about 50,000 people who were present when the festival’s crew of fire-fighters pulled Mr Mitchell out of the blaze.
Attempts to rescue him were hampered because part of the structure was falling while they were trying to get Mitchell out of it, the sheriff’s office said.
“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 sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The statement added that Mr Mitchell was a U.S. citizen who had a home in Oklahoma but had been living in Switzerland with his.
The festival, situated in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, released a statement saying that burns events through noon Sunday had been cancelled. However, the 8pm temple burn, another signature event that marks the end of the nine-day festival, was due to go ahead.
More than 70,000 people attended the art and music celebration which culminates with the burning of a towering 40-foot effigy made of wood, a symbol of rebirth.
Sheriff Allen said the festival has tried to contain the problem of people trying to run into the flames by having their own rangers stage a human-chain to prevent people from getting close.
“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 tenets of radical self-expression.”
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