See Monday's fire updates and "Saddle Butte Fire, by the numbers" here

Eyewitnesses heard a “pop” before a fiery blaze swept across East Gros Ventre Butte on Sunday afternoon, forcing evacuations and temporarily closing the town’s main traffic artery.

The Saddle Butte Fire, originally called the Virginian Fire, had consumed about 300 acres as crews continued fighting by ground and air late Sunday. Thousands of bystanders gawked at the aerial ballet. As of press time, no structures had been reported lost, although there were close calls.

The first report of a fire came in to dispatch at 1:25 p.m., and “within 20 minutes it was threatening homes in the area,” Teton County Public Information Officer Kristen Waters said.

Laura Walker, a maintenance worker for The Virginian Lodge, was watering plants by the swimming pool when she heard what sounded like a balloon snapping. She called 911.

Burning in dry grass beneath a power pole, the fire looked about 20 feet wide, she said, “and the wind just took it.”

Just up the street, at Jackson Hole Whitewater, 650 W. Broadway Ave., Dwight Vasel also saw the fire start and spread.

“I just heard like a pop, like a bang,” he said. “When I first looked up, I saw sparks coming down.”

As sparks rained down from a transformer, Vasel said, “then I realized that there’s some balloons tied up there, so they must have landed in there and ignited that. You can still see the balloons tied up.”

Vasel, who works for Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris, said his boss climbed to the top of the Jackson Hole Whitewater building to hose down the office roof as a precaution.

Saddle Butte Fire

Aerial crews drop retardant on East Gros Ventre Butte where a fire started Sunday afternoon. Evacuation orders remained in place for about 30 homes until Tuesday night.

An investigation will determine the official cause of the blaze once the fire is fully contained, Waters said. Jackson Hole Fire/EMS will likely handle that investigation.

As flames sped across East Gros Ventre Butte, paralleling Broadway Avenue, emergency personnel shut down the road and started evacuating homes and businesses.

Anders Ackley raced home to Deer Ridge after getting a call from a neighbor.

“We grabbed my daughter’s hamster, the two dogs; we literally had one minute to do anything,” Ackley said. Police “were like, get out now! They were kicking in doors, taking out cats and dogs. We just peeled out of there.”

Tony Nigro was standing on his front deck outside his Deer Ridge condo when one police officer showed up with sirens blaring.

Nigro “hadn’t even smelled smoke yet.”

Once the officer told him there was a fire behind his building, Nigro and his roommate ran through the complex to warn neighbors. He grabbed his dog and cat, and drove them to First Republic Bank.

When Nigro’s neighbor, Nick Staffer, heard sirens, he went to look out his window and saw “flames taller than himself.”

Both Nigro and Staffer said they didn’t realize they needed to evacuate until the officers showed up.

Meanwhile, Nigro ran back to the condominium parking lot to rescue his vintage convertible.

He didn’t have the keys and couldn’t get back into his condo. So he returned to his truck to drive his pets to the Staples parking lot.

Meanwhile, his roommate and several strangers put his convertible in neutral and pushed it across Broadway to get it out of the fire’s path.

Firefighters remained on scene Sunday night into Monday.

Evacuation orders remained in place overnight for about 30 homes.

Personnel with Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Police Department and Wyoming Highway Patrol were all on scene Sunday afternoon.

Air tankers, helicopters and ground crews attacked the fire from every angle.

The blaze spread quickly and was just barely outrunning fire crews throughout the afternoon and evening. Trees in the fire’s path went up in flames as it spread.

As the fire moved east and then wrapped north on the butte, pedestrians stopped to take photos and watch from sidewalks, parks and hotels.

While the Deer Ridge and Hillside condos (580 and 590 W. Broadway Ave.), Grand Designs building and Saddle Butte homes had immediate evacuation orders to “go now,” emergency officials ordered Spring Creek Ranch, Spring Creek Resort, Amangani Resort and Pine Siskin Road to be “set,” or ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, as the fire continued to threaten structures.

The fire comes on the heels of the Museum Fire on Aug. 4, which threatened the north end of the same butte.

At 9:06 p.m. Sunday night, Teton County officials announced a partial fire ban for the unincorporated parts of Teton County. Open fires are prohibited. Still permitted are fires in a campground ring at an established campground and home fire pits that use a screened spark arrester.

All roads in and around Jackson were open Sunday night.

Natalie Shilati contributed to this article.

Saddle Butte Fire

A firefighter battles flames along the hillside opposite of Town Creek Condominiums.

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington has worked for newspapers across the West. She hosts a rescue podcast, The Fine Line. Her family minivan doubles as her not-so-high-tech recording studio.

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(1) comment

Lanny Lammers

Rake the brush back a bit in the future to prevent accidental fires


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