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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."
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. 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.
–Christian, a documentary photographer at the event
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.
Contributing: Devon Dolan