While the cause of a Sunday afternoon fire on Snow King remains under investigation, Fire Chief Brady Hansen said it was one of four that Jackson Hole Fire/EMS responded to in a 30-hour period.
All four fires were likely “human caused,” Hansen told Jackson Town councilors at a Monday workshop. He also said that units from Station 1 were returning from another call, and “we were very fortunate that they were close” and able to get there quickly.
At 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Teddy Bond, a lift maintenance mechanic at Snow King, was with two other employees getting ready to wind down operations for the Rafferty Lift and Alpine Slide, which typically close at 5 p.m. Then a call reporting the fire came across their radios. One employee called 911 while Bond grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran up the hill.
He flagged down coworker Patrick Morris, 42, who was mowing grass nearby, and hopped on the mower to drive closer to the flames burning in the Aspen Hill Cemetery.
“We just start ripping it up the hill as fast as we can,” Bond said.
Once they got as close as they could drive with the mower, the 23-year-old headed to the fire while Morris took off to a nearby snow groomer to get another extinguisher.
“It was just instinct, being mountain utilities and lift maintenance, we know where all that stuff is at,” Morris said.
Bond, shaking with adrenaline after his uphill dash, pulled the pin and started extinguishing flames burning through the grass and chain-link fence separating the cemetery from the resort and nearby Alpine Slide. Guests had been enjoying rides before employees quickly evacuated the slide, chairlift and Alpine Coaster.
Morris arrived with his extinguisher, aiming to keep the fire from spreading into the “bone-dry” grass next to the slide.
Like a modern bucket brigade, more employees started bringing up extinguishers grabbed from all over the mountain.
“Then it was a complete collective,” Morris said. “It’s our mountain. It’s our future, our livelihood.” In all, about a half-dozen employees responded, rounding up and unloading seven or eight extinguishers on the flames.
Worried that a gust of wind would allow the fire to take off, Bond said, “I guess we got there right in the nick of time. We were probably fighting it for a good 10 minutes before the firefighters showed up. I was so exhausted, I had to get off the hill. I almost passed out.”
Arriving with a fire engine and dragging up hoses, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS doused the quarter-acre fire for good. The fire burned resort property and town-owned land but did not reach the national forest. Due to the “severe” risk of the fire’s location near structures and town, Hansen said, firefighters responded from all around the valley, including the West Bank, National Park Service and Forest Service.
Timothy Woods contributed to this report.