Authorities are planning to lift evacuations this evening on the roughly 30 homes in the Saddle Butte subdivision that were threatened by the Saddle Butte fire. Those residents will soon return to their homes after a two-day evacuation authorities ordered on Sunday. “We’re hoping to call this fire 100% contained by end of shift tonight,” said Dave Wilkins, incident commander for the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Officials announced Monday that an “unusual accident” caused the fire. Mylar balloons, which are made from a reflective polyester film, tangled with power lines and created an electric arc on Sunday afternoon. “Mylar balloons are that metal, tin-foil like material and they conduct electricity,” Wilkins said. The balloons created sparks that landed on dry vegetation. Heavy winds, topography and dry conditions exacerbated the fire. It spread to 255 acres.
Wilkins said authorities pinpointed the owner of the balloons, but there won’t be any action taken against them. “It was an accident,” Wilkins reiterated.
As the fire spread along East Gros Ventre Butte on Sunday, fire managers sprang into action. At the fire’s peak, roughly 100 people were fighting the fire or offering support. That included hotshot crews, helicopters, and aircraft from Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.
The fire prompted evacuations of the Deer Drive condos, the Grand Designs building and the Saddle Butte subdivision. The evacuations for Deer Drive and Grand Designs were short-lived. Those folks were able to return Sunday evening. But before that, nearby neighbors watched with angst. Some saw ash flying through the air. They too thought they would have to evacuate. Allan Cole lives on North Millward Avenue across from Miller Park.
“All the sudden we smelled something burning and we went outside and it was ashing,” Cole said. “The light changed to this crazy shade of orange. It looked like it was coming right for us.”
Ulimately, Cole and his wife didn’t have to leave. He said he noticed a remarkable change, that the smoke and flames diminished considerably once helicopters and aircraft were deployed to the scene.
Incident Commander Wilkins said the effort to contain the fire included more than a dozen agencies.
Of the folks in the Saddle Butte area who did have to evacuate, Wilkins said their homes were in severe danger at the height of the fire. Still, “no structures were lost in the fire and the homes on Saddle Butte were largely prepared for wildfire,” he said.