The sound of stomping feet woke Erik Pippen on Sunday morning. When he opened the door to his second-floor balcony at Blair Place Apartments, the 30-year-old recalled seeing “red sparks falling.”

When his employer, Jodi Mueller, who lives one floor down, first heard the fire alarm go off about 10:40 a.m. Sunday, she was getting ready for work and wasn’t sure it was the real deal.

“I’ve been in situations when fire alarms go off and you don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” she said. But she heard people running and looked outside her door to see water from the building’s sprinkler system pouring down the walls.

“It was a little terrifying,” she said. “That’s when we knew it was real.”

As fire engines from across the valley arrived, two third-floor balconies were engulfed in flames. But the building’s sprinkler system acted as a first line of defense, said Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Battalion Chief Mike Moyer.

“Fire originated on the third-floor balcony areas and has damaged those two top apartments with fire up through the roof, as well, and into the attic,” Moyer said.

Firefighters attacked the burning balconies from the outside and at the same time entered building 245 with fire hoses from the opposite side, striking from two directions at once, both inside and out, Moyer said. Crews contained the fire to the third floor and roof, but some apartments on the first and second floors sustained water damage.

All residents safely evacuated along with their pets, except for two pet birds that perished in the fire.

Several hours later, firefighters were still checking the roof for residual heat with thermal imaging cameras and chainsaws. Although not all of the apartments were damaged, 14 units were evacuated in an abundance of caution with plans to monitor the building overnight, said Kristen Waters, Teton County’s public information specialist. Property managers also needed to assess damage to the fire alarm and suppression systems before residents could safely return.

Fire investigators were working Sunday evening to determine the cause of the blaze. Teton County Victim Services arranged for hotels for displaced families, who were also invited to decompress and get food at the Jackson Elks Lodge.

Mueller, 33, and her husband, Simon, who own Domino’s pizza, donated several pies to feed the first responders.

“That’s how we solve problems, we bring pizza,” Mueller said, while sitting on her belongings, including televisions, clothing and family photographs, retrieved by firefighters.

When the couple first went outside they noticed one employee was missing.

“My husband actually went back in,” she recalled. “He was asleep. So we were able to get him awake and out.”

Mueller expects that they could be displaced for a while since their first-floor unit suffered water damage.

“We’re just grateful that [the fire] didn’t travel any further,” she said. “At the end of the day it’s just stuff. We’re just glad that everyone’s safe.”

Some 40 firefighters responded from stations in Jackson, Adams Canyon, Hoback, Wilson, Teton Village Road and Teton Village. The Jackson Police Department also helped evacuate the building and provide traffic control while firefighters put out the fire and retrieved residents’ valuables.

Contact Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or rebecca@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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