Element 11 — Utah’s regional equivalent of the Burning Man arts festival — came to a tragic halt when one of the attendees died after jumping into a ceremonial bonfire.
The three-story structure, built after a character from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, had been burning for 30 minutes as part of the event’s festivities, when the man now identified as Chris Wallace ran into the fire. Wallace had told others at the festival that he planned to jump into the fire. “This is what he was going to do, and it’s what he did. It took not even seconds. He was just through the barricades and into the fire,” stated Lieutenant Steve Barrett of the Grantsville City Police Department.
Despite the 25-40 volunteers securing the 15-meter perimeter around the burning artwork and the surrounding crowd who tried to stop him, Wallace managed to surpass everyone and throw himself into the flames. “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… He was camping here with some people who knew him and loved him and welcomed him into their group,” said Element 11 spokesman JP Bernier.
Element 11 responded to the tragedy via Facebook:
Burning Man also released a statement on their official blog: “This is obviously a terribly difficult and sad event for the global Burning Man community, the dedicated organizers of Element 11, and most especially for those who witnessed it. Our thoughts and prayers today are with the victim’s family and the Utah Burner community.Many people came together to create a safe and enjoyable event celebrating community, art and creativity. While this is a heavy blow, we’re heartened by the fact that we’ve already seen the Burning Man community reaching out to those affected with offers of support.
For our part, our leadership has been in touch with the leadership of the Utah Regional, and we will be doing everything we can to support the community through this difficult time.
An investigation is currently underway by local law enforcement, and more information will be made available in the coming days and weeks.”
Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP via NBC News