Police identify man who fatally threw himself into fire at Element 11 festival

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — Grantsville police have released the identity of a man who died Saturday night after throwing himself into a large fire at the Element 11 festival.

Hundreds of festival-goers surrounded the fire before 30-year-old Salt Lake City resident Christopher Wallace ran and jumped into it.

The fire started as a three-story structure in the shape of a character from the book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

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.

A video clip shows the moments leading up to the incident:

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 Wallace 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.”

Witnesses at the festival said Wallace’s 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 identified himself as 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.

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.

Related story: Element 11 brings Burning Man vibe to Utah

37 comments

  • Dylan Moore (@binarytree)

    I’m saddened by this incident; indeed, we are all family at an event like this. I find it very interesting that Fox 13’s suicide report policy is so narrow; Suicide is definitely an epidemic in Utah. It’s #11 in the country in youth suicide alone.
    Two youth (ages 10-17) are treated for suicide attempts every day in Utah.
    Three young adults (ages 18-24) are treated for suicide attempts every day in Utah.
    [1] http://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/suicide/youthSuicide.html

  • Nope

    I worked with him and have to say he was always happy a great guy I don’t believe it was suicide but something that was related to drugs

  • Cerene

    They are so full of crock. I saw a cell phone video of the suicide. There was no perimeter of people. There was no one chasing the guy until he was already in the fire. He was playing near the fire before he ran into it so they had plenty of time to stop him. They were freaking irresponsible and they know it. I hope they’re freaking shut down.

    • T

      I’d very much like to see that cell phone video, since this might have some direct impact on other events I am involved with.

      • Anonymous73

        It’s truly sad to see so many incentive remarks condoning, judging, and thinking the worst of a person when they don’t even know him. You don’t have any idea what events led up to this particular moment as to why he jumped in the fire. Even all of the firsthand accounts from witnesses on the burn website are all different. What about his poor wife he left behind to hear that her husband had died in the most graphic way? Please be respectful of the dead and their families.

    • Kuber

      I was there and was a volunteer. I saw what happened and there was nothing we could of done. They did around the edges and its hard to see in the video (we look like normal people!) but once the fire is going even being next to the perimeter is really hard to be around due to the heat. Please have respect as this was shocking for everyone involved.

    • Chris Gattman

      So, apparently, it’s now everybody else’s responsibility to ensure that grown adults don’t jump in campfires. Nanny wants to punish other people for one guy’s suicide, but, if he’d have slit his wrists or ODed in his tent, people like Cerene wouldn’t have given a hoot.

      Always gotta find new ways to punish and control people for the actions of others, huh?

    • Ashley P

      I was there and witnessed the whole thing. It was horrific. As shown in the video the man danced a little in the center and then he booked it to the fire. the fire fighters and several volunteers tried desperately to stop him.. which you don’t see because they had to cut out the part with him burning to death in the flames which everyone there witnessed. Please do not make comments about the safety committee as they truly did everything they could to stop this from happening… once the man got within ten feet of the effigy he was as good as gone. I couldn’t stand a hundred feet from it and not feel the burn. Honestly I am amazed that the firefighters and rangers went as close as they did to try and stop him.

    • Chris Gattman

      Wow, that’s so incredibly clever. Did you come up with that one yourself? You could at least come up with “there goes another flaming liberal” or something equally insensitive, without being so totally vapid and pointless.

  • JSD

    Wow, really? You cut out the part with the man running into the fire, but you still show the part where he gets burned alive? You can still see the man twitching at 0:27 FULLSCREEN (behind the guy with the walkie talkie, center screen.) (looks like he is laying on his back with his hands up, and then his arms twitch)

  • Bob

    Anyone who’s ever had a family member in the burn unit would never chose that way to go unless he was on drugs.

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