Pictured:  A hot air balloon catches fire after a branch punctures it, causing a small brush fire in Cave Creek.  All 13 passengers had exited safely before the balloon ignited, there were no injuries.
Photos courtesy of Sheila Wright
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Hot air balloon with 13 passengers lands in Cave Creek, catches fire to branch that ignites basket, small brush fire


Tara Alatorre
CAVE CREEK – On the morning or March 28, a hot air balloon operated by Hot Air Expeditions based out of North Phoenix made a routine landing near 36th Street and Carefree Highway. On the decent a nearby branch punctured the balloon and it caught fire causing the hot air balloon, basket and small brush fire to ignite after all 13 passengers had made a standard normal exit.

“The landing, which was also a safe, calm and routine landing, was facilitated well,” according to a press release from Hot Air Expeditions regarding the incident.

All 13 passengers were safely escorted away from the small fire as fire extinguishers and water were used by Hot Air Expedition staff while they waited for firefighters to arrive on the scene.  The Phoenix Fire Department arrived on the scene shortly after the fire ignited, which was quickly extinguished, according to witnesses.

“No passengers were injured or in harms way prior to, during, or after the incident, and were all in good spirits,” the press release stated.

Earlier reports from other local media outlets had incorrectly reported that the air balloon had caught fire during the flight causing a “crash landing,” which is not factual according Chris O’Neil, a media representative for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“That is correct, a tree branch caught fire,” he said, while adding that the branch punctured the envelope, which is the colorful outer shell of a hot air balloon after landing.

After the envelope caught fire, the basket became engulfed in flames, which was well after the passengers had exited the hot air balloon.

The pilot operating the balloon has over 30 years of experience, and the flight logged 65 minutes of air time, which is consistent with the sequence of events that the fire started after the balloon had already landed.

“Hot Air Expeditions has been providing hot air balloon tours in Phoenix, Ariz., for over 27 years, and is proud to be locally-owned and family operated,” the Hot Air Expeditions press release stated.