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

Posted at 4:44 PM, Jul 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-14 17:10:50-04

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