People who fear snakes (or spiders, or dogs, or clowns, or needles, or whatever) might add Mylar balloons to their anxieties.
In the past, we have written a couple articles about the effects of Mylar balloons on wildlife and their habitats. Not only do these balloons turn up in the most remote areas as they float on breezes over rugged terrain, but they are stuffed with helium, a non-renewable element essential to some medical procedures.
Recently, however, a new aspect of these balloons came to our attention as we stood on the deck of the Visitor Center at the National Elk Refuge talking with visitors. “Smells like someone has lit their fireplace,” I said to the lady I interacted with. “It’s a hot day for that!”
Suddenly, smoke wafted from around the corner of the building and filled the air around us. We glanced at the hillside across the street and spotted the beginnings of a brush fire behind the butte, smoke swirling higher and darker as wind whipped the flames.
“I saw a string of Mylar balloons stuck to a utility pole when we passed by on our way to a restaurant,” one of our volunteers later reported. “I thought they looked funny up there.”
But it wasn’t funny when shortly thereafter the balloons “created an electric arc……that sent flaming materials flying to the ground, igniting dried grass below the power line,” according to The Jackson Hole Daily newspaper.
It wasn’t long before the flames crept across and over the butte and headed toward several houses and the Visitor Center. Condos near where the fire started were evacuated, as well as other nearby structures. Helicopters appeared quickly, sucking up water from nearby ponds and depositing it along fire lines before swinging back to refill. Back and forth they sped, alternating filling and dumping until they were joined by fixed-wing aircraft, including heavy jet tankers applying fire retardant.
As we stood out front of the Visitor Center watching flames snake in our direction, emergency vehicles continued to respond and aircraft continued to attack the fire. In the end, the fire was contained just short of several houses and the condos, no one was injured, and the danger was reduced.
Several visitors remained by the Visitor Center, mesmerized by the air support which battled potential destruction. When the cause of the fire was announced, one visitor commented, “I’ll never buy Mylar balloons again!”