Burners who attended Element11, the Utah Regional burn, this weekend witnessed a terrible tragedy. A man committed suicide very publicly, by running into the fire as they burned their effigy under the Full Moon.
Sparky, the Element11 effigy, based on Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. photo credit: Fox13 News, Salt Lake City
The fire, 1 minute prior to the tragedy.
Official statement from Utah Burners:
On behalf of Element 11 – our official statement: We acknowledge there was indeed a fatality last night at Element 11 (Utah’s regional). This is a deeply upsetting event with tragic results. Our hearts go out to the Utah community and to the attendees of Element 11. This is a tragic event, and we struggle to respond to it. We ask for your patience while we find the appropriate resources, but please know that we are committed to supporting those affected by this event in the best way we can
There has been an outpouring of grief and sympathy on Facebook from the Burner community. Our thoughts and prayers go to all of the 1200-strong crowd who had to suffer from this tragedy, and particularly those Burners who had to witness the horrific event.
Burner Chris: its real, and it happened. i saw it and it was horrifying. Love and light goes out to everyone affected. Sad day….The perimeter was in place. the fire got large and hot enough that everyone moved back. in the scramble he was able to get through the perimeter…it did continue, as much as it could. there was silence so quiet afterwards nobody spoke over a whisper… [the event continued] remaining effigy’s were not allowed to burn. people were comforting each other best they could.
Burner Rissa: I watched this entire tragic event as it happened. He full on ran and jumped into the fire. Several ppl were running after him trying to stop him. But unfortunately they were not quick enough. It was pretty devastating to watch. My heart goes out to his family for the loss. The whole thing is stuck in my mind. I couldn’t ever imagine being a place in the mind that his actions were the resolution…I still can’t believe that I watched the whole thing. The images of his hand reaching up through the flames will stick with me for a long time. I still am having a hard time believing that this was real…
Burner Michael: This was my first visit to E11, and to Bonnevlle Seabase, a beautiful location for a lovely joyful event. I was resting my legs on a trailer at about 9o’clock as Sparky burned, the leaves and twigs had flashed off in to sparks and the fire was intense through all the heavy, repurposed lumber of the structure. The upper elements had mostly fallen, focussing my attention up high , then I saw the man running in from the right, Rangers running towards him; I thought first he had run round the far side, but it was immediately apparent that he had run straight in.
Burner H: In the midst of tragedy, we held hands as emergency vehicles arrived and helped one another cope with fear and loss of innocent revelry. While “what next” has yet to be determined, I am very touched by the commitment and rapid response that leadership, volunteers, and others provided to support a sense of community encountering and transcending crisis…I was glad to help as a first responder at the perimeter for people in shock, then as a crisis worker at Center Camp. There was a lot of healing in our community, but so much hurt. I am here for people in need.
Burner Erik: This event was 18 and up only. The image of his hand reaching up will be with me for the rest of my life. Witnessing this will forever change how i view the frailty of life. The event paused for a hour or so after this occurred before slowly continuing on. I personally dedicated my entire 3 hour dj set to all of my fellow burners there and to the camp that is returning home with one less brother to call upon.
Burner Grant: As I rushed around the playa last night trying to find and check in with all my people, I had two dozen strangers stop me, hug me, and make sure I was okay. Thank you, all. This is a beautiful community and I love it more than ever.
Burner Victoria: A man ran and Dove into the effigy.. Right after it was lit up.. In front of the whole burn…
Burner Brandi: He was calm and peaceful when he did it. Most likely under the influence. We are a little traumatized right now
Burner Brittan: People tried to stop him… It happened fast
Burner Darren: everyone has remained calm. the event staff are doing an excellent job for the situation
Burner Sweeney: I have so far spoken to two friends who were Rangering perimeter. Frankly nothing would make me retract the word unfairly in relation to the fact that this happened on their watch, I think this act was desperately unfair on those who give up so much and work so hard to keep us all safe. Much love to all who held space that night.
Burner Mehgun: I’m still shaking. It was so horrible.
Burner Nina: At flipside in Tx, Yes regional bm, they have sanctuary staffed with professional counselors, mental health pros and super easy to talk to people for anyone that feels they need it.
This brings to mind two other very public Burner suicides, the body of Jermaine Barley that was found hanging (possibly for hours) at queer camp Comfort and Joy in 2007, and
arsonist convicted felon/protestor Paul Addis jumping in front of a train in San Francisco in 2012.
Suicide is always a tragedy, and inflicts pain on everyone who knew the person. Something like this, though, is terribly scarring for all those who had to witness it. All three Burner suicides were public statements that inflicted the victim’s pain upon innocent witnesses who had done nothing to them.
The question needs to be asked: is there anything our community could have done to prevent this? Now, or in the future. Could the principle of radical inclusion somehow be a trigger: a person feels excluded so they think “I’ll show them”? This is certainly a twisted form of self expression, immediacy, and leave no trace. A trace is left in the hearts and souls of all the witnesses, and the family and friends of the victim.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. 1-800-273-TALK
[Update 7/13/14 3:05pm]
We will continue to update this story as news comes in. Since the event got TV coverage on Fox News in Utah before the tragedy, we expect that there will be mainstream media coverage once the victim’s family have been notified.
Here is a comment from a witness who wishes to remain anonymous:
I am still reeling from what I witnessed last night. I’m sure everyone there felt the same way.
We were at Utah’s regional Burning Man event. The apex of such events is the burn of a very large fire. I remember my first time, 8 years ago at the same event, seeing the burn. I’d never seen a controlled flame like that. There was such power and majesty in it. Its effects on everyone were undeniable. There is something primal and unifying about a fire so large. Everyone is drawn to the heat and the light and their barriers come down. We feel instinctual, we feel human, we feel safe, we feel equal, we feel catharsis, and we feel joy. We are completely present in the moment and simultaneously understand the ephemeral nature of our lives. People drum, dance, hug, some even get naked and dance near the flames and feel the fire singe their skin.
This year’s effigy was beautiful. The inner frame was made of 2x4s and the outer layers were made from branches. There was a perimeter clearly marked and everyone sat outside the perimeter. The firefighters stood at the ready while the effigy became a very tall, very beautiful fire. We all celebrated.
And then someone ran toward the flame. Danced toward the flame was more accurate. We watched him get close, far too close. Halfway between the perimeter line and the fire. There are usually hippies that do something like this. They get closer than the rest of us and walk out with sunburns. He paused a bit and just danced in place, swinging his arms like a windmill and kicking his feet behind him. The firefighters moved in (I’m imagining they just wanted to be able to pull him out of there in case he collapsed from the heat.) And then the man just danced further toward the fire. Firefighters started to follow but before they could get to him, the man danced up to the edge and then just calmly jumped in. Just laid down in the fire and then disappeared into the flames. The firefighters tried to move in but the blaze was too big. They doused out the fire as we all watched in horror.
Since then, I can’t get the image out of my mind of this man just spinning his arms and kicking his feet and jogging into the fire. He didn’t shield his face. He didn’t hunker down like he was preparing for pain. He didn’t run fast. He calmly and deliberately danced and laid down in the fire. I never saw him struggle.
There were 1,200 people at the event and every single one of them was watching as this happened.
I don’t think this has ever happened in the history of burning man. (I’ve been looking.) My mind won’t stop going in circles. Why did he do it? Who was he? What was he thinking? I can’t imagine any of these answers and I don’t think I’ll ever have them.
My immediate desire was to go home to my children and hold them safe.
I feel tremendous emotion that I can’t identify. Confusion, sadness, fear. I mostly just don’t understand why.
My love to all those affected by this tragedy.
In 2001, someone did deliberately run into a fire in Deep Playa, and died later of his burns in the Reno hospital. In 2005, Anthony Beninati from Los Angeles accidentally fell in the fire, and then sued BMOrg. He lost his appeal.
[Update 7/13/14 10:57pm] Burner Frosty was a witness, and did not see it go down exactly the way the Anonymous commenter described it above. He says in the comments to our article:
CORRECTION: the “anonymous witness” in the article above is quoted as saying “the man just danced further toward the fire. Firefighters started to follow but before they could get to him, the man danced up to the edge and then just calmly jumped in. Just laid down in the fire and then disappeared into the flames.”
NO – nothing could be farther from what happen.
when i first saw this person, they were running wildly across the playa: whether to escape the rangers or dancing i do not know. very quickly, he then raced towards the fire. about 10-15 feet away, he suddenly stopped (from the heat?), then just as quickly took a step backwards for momentum, and then they launched themselves full tilt into the fire, running as fast as he could the last 10-15 feet, jumping high with the last step, and hurling themselves into the flames while curling his arms around his body as he sailed into the air. he landed right into a corner and then simply lay there where he landed, ablaze, until about 30 seconds later the charred corpse suddenly jerked its arms; the animal within releasing its death throe.
why is this important?!!
because it would be very wrong, sad and unfair to think that the rangers and firefighters ensuring security would simply let someone “calmly walk into the fire”.
There was nothing “calm” about what happened. it was a violent act. the person who took their own life did so in a violent way, leaping with force into flames.
it was also a violent act thrust upon 1200 unsuspecting spectators, myself included, who have spent all night and all day trying to forget the horror played out for them.
It’s clear that this person was deliberate in what they did, and the fire safety volunteers did the right thing so that no more lives were endangered.
[Update 7/13/14 4:34pm]
Fox13 News in Salt Lake City has a video story from the event. They will have an interview with an eyewitness in an update later tonight.
TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — Event organizers of Element 11, a festival referred to by many as Utah’s version of Burning Man, released a statement Sunday after a man died in what appears to be a suicide by jumping into a large fire surrounded by hundreds of festival-goers.
Sunday is the final day of the festival, and the incident occurred Saturday around 11 p.m. when a three-story structure representing a character from the book “Where the Wild Things Are” was being burned.
Festival officials said as the art project was being burned (burning the art is an integral part of the festivities) a man suddenly rushed past security and jumped into the fire. Officials said there were between 25 and 40 volunteers forming a perimeter around the fire to prevent people from getting too close. Those nearby attempted to shout at the man and even chase him, but they were unable to prevent him from jumping.
Officials said that once the man was in the fire there was nothing they could do, as they said attempting to intervene could have led to more deaths.
Safety coordinator J.P. Bernier spoke about the incident and the impact it will have on their procedures going forward.
“The people that form that perimeter, it’s not a hand-in-hand circle around: There is space between these people so it will definitely have an impact about how we treat that perimeter in the future for sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to place any blame on our community members or our volunteers. Everybody was in the right place at the right time. This guy was really motivated. He was fast, he didn’t respond to commands to stop, he clearly had an objective.”
Element 11 officials delivered a verbal statement Sunday to FOX 13 News’ Robert Boyd regarding the incident, which is available below.
“This is a deeply upsetting event with tragic results, our hearts go out to the Utah community and the attendees of Element 11. This is a tragic event and we struggle to respond to it we ask for your patience while we find the appropriate resources but please know we are committed to supporting those who are affected by this event in the best way we can.”
Police officials said they are working to identify the victim and notify his family.
The event is held in Bonneville Seabase near Grantsville and spans several days. It features art projects created during the year, which participants then burn at the end of the festival.
Editor’s note: As a rule FOX 13 News does not cover deaths that appear to be a suicide unless the action has a wider impact on the community–as in cases like this that unfold in such a public manner.
[Update 7/13/14 7:48pm]
The story has been covered by the Deseret News:
GRANTSVILLE — One man died Saturday night after witnesses say he ran into a ceremonial bonfire at a regional burning festival Saturday night.
The annual event, put on by Element 11, is a spinoff of the Burning Man festival held in Black Rock City, Nevada. As part of the event, several effigies about 30 feet tall are constructed out of dry wood and ceremoniously burned, according to Element 11 spokesman J.P. Bernier.
Because the burning produces extreme heat, volunteers form a perimeter around the burning for the safety of other participants, Bernier said.
After 11 p.m., volunteers noticed a man who came running forward through the crowd and went past the perimeter. Volunteers made attempts to call out and stop the man, but they were unsuccessful in preventing him from jumping into the fire, Bernier said.
“The nature of the fire is such that our volunteers were not able to get close enough to the fire for risk of their own safety,” Bernier said. “He was very fast; he was very motivated. It wasn’t an accident or any act of negligence on anybody’s part. He had a very deliberate objective to get past our volunteers, past our safety perimeter.”
The victim’s name was not released Sunday. Grantsville police issued a very brief statement only saying that they were investigating “a fatality at an event being held within Grantsville City.”
Many participants were distraught and confused by the suddenness of the incident, according to a participant and a documentary photographer named Christian, who declined to provide his last name.
“I did see that a lot of the community was shocked and traumatized,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions, a lot of facts that are unknown.”
Doug Johnson said the incident was the first of its kind that he’s seen after attending the event for more than a dozen years.
“I was blown away,” Johnson said. “Fifteen years and I’ve never had anything like that happen, ever.”
More than 100 volunteers help facilitate the regional event, which is intended to “ignite a culture of creativity in the community,” Bernier said. The event hosted more than 1,200 attendees, and members of the volunteer Grantsville Fire Department were present.
A burning scheduled for Sunday morning was canceled after Saturday’s incident.
Christian said safety has been an ever-growing priority at the event over the five years he’s been attending.
“This is the first event that I was restricted as a documentary photographer to ever get near anything there because safety was such a concern,” he said. “And the fact that he had to break through that barrier anyway, I would just say that it was not something that was easily prevented at all.”
Bernier said that while safety procedures were followed, policies will be examined in the hope that such incidents will be prevented in the future.
“We’ll definitely look at our policies,” Bernier said
[Update 7/13/14 8:09pm] Fox13 in Utah have updated their story with a new video, including a couple of witness statements:
Witnesses at the festival said the death is something they never could have imagined. Some of them are even taking it personally.
“There were people crying and some were just kind of in shock,” said a festival-goer who only calls himself Spice. “There were a couple of fellows that were running to stop him and missed him and some of them couldn’t go toward the fire because it was too intense and they are taking that pretty hard.”
Del Hargis said everyone who participates in this event is part of a family, and this weekend they are grieving like a family.
“I was instantly moved,” he said. “So much so my friends around me started saying ‘Del must have known him, what was his name Del?’ and I personally could hardly breathe at the time and I said, ‘one of us, he is one of us.’”
Element 11 does say the man was not alone. He was surrounded by people who cared.
“He was camped here with people who did know him and loved him and welcomed him into their camp and into their group,” Bernier said.
The event is held in Bonneville Seabase near Grantsville and spans several days. It features art projects created during the year, which participants then burn at the end of the festival.
[Update 7/13/14 9:15pm] The story was covered by the Daily Mail in the UK.
Still no official comment from Burning Man.
[Update 7/13/14 9:38pm] The suicide is getting some coverage on Reddit. It didn’t take long for the story to somehow get twisted into hating on us:
Whoever writes burners.me is a shitty fucking person. These poor people have had no time to get ahead of this horrible event. They’re running on no sleep, their burn is STILL happening and they have an entire burn to break down between today and tomorrow. They’re being hounded by media too. Where’s the compassion at?
Where’s your compassion at? There’s no sensationalism here, and certainly no accusations of blame. We’re just trying to gather whatever information we can about what happened from public statements online. I don’t see anyone else doing that, and I hardly expect BMOrg are going to. There are rumors on Facebook, that we’ve chosen not to publish here.
Art1san the hater is concerned about legal liability, and the effect on their own event. They love that Fox News covered the story, which included interviewing witnesses. For some reason, though, we’re terrible for sharing public comments that others have made on the Internet.
I’ve actually been live streaming the news coverage. Your outlet, [Fox 13] so far, has been really kind. Seeing that is awesome and I commend your team on that.
…Speaking as someone involved very heavily in the lead structure of a regional burn (I don’t want to name it because reasons) I can tell you we have been scrambling to try and get ahead of this with our underwriters. The ripple affects of this will be far reaching. One thing that’s terrible is JP Burnier and the words he’s saying. The org/staff of E11 need to CEASE right now, contact their attorneys and get legal advise. They need to contact BM contacts to help walk them through managing this crisis, if they haven’t already. E11 is opening itself up to legal pursuit by making statements that go in print. It’s really terrible to see, and I hope E11 makes it through this, it would be sad to see a 13 year burn vanish because of one persons actions.
…The thing is, even though the volunteers aren’t at fault, the org for the burn may be held liable. They’ve got a fire safety staff member saying on print that there were holes in their perimeter, which is a basic admission of fault. The PR isn’t being handled well on this at all, unfortunately.
Who’s hounding whom? I didn’t get that from Element11’s statements at all. Everyone has said that to pursue the victim any further would have endangered the lives of the fire safety volunteers. I’m sure there are 1200 witnesses who would swear to the same thing. Maybe Art1san should quit dumping on JP Bernier and the rest of the Element11 crew, and give them a break – and stop putting ideas of lawsuits into people’s heads. You brought it up dude, not us.
Some other comments from Reddit:
Burner travel64 said: I was there and it was fucked up. The fire was so intense that once he crossed a certain point it would be impossible to tackle him or hold him back. I was around 90 yards from the flames and they were so incredibly hot. Magnesium was used in the burn which can reach temperatures of 5000f, to give you an idea of how hot it was. The volunteers and fire fighters did absolutely nothing wrong and there was nothing they could do without endangering their own lives. No one was expecting this to happen so by the time they reacted it was already too late. I pray that this story is not twisted to make those noble volunteers look at fault. This is a very tight community where everyone are friends and pride themselves on being helpful and thoughtful towards others.
Burner Buttfartmcpoopus said: I was there as well. Luckily I didn’t actually see him, only the commotion surrounding it when people tried to go after him. It was still very surreal and difficult to stand helplessly and watch a fire that I knew someone was inside of, dying and burning away in front of 1,200 people. What a heavy, complicated night. Nobody is to blame for this. Everyone did everything they could. This man clearly made a decision that he wasn’t going to let anyone intervene on. So far the news outlets have been respectful, which I am grateful for
Wordofgreen, from Fox13, in response to the question “anyone know if drugs were involved?”: We haven’t heard anything, that I’m aware of here in the newsroom, that would indicate that is the case.