Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Five Years Ago Today

Five years ago today, a natural gas explosion and ensuing fires devastated the center section of a city block on Main Street in Bozeman, Montana.  The anniversary is a where were you then and what were you doing when you heard it and felt it event for the locals.

The Rocking R Bar is rebuilt, back in businesses and going strong, put on a Mardi Gras bead contest last night. Darn, I missed it!

So too is the American Legion bar rebuilt.

There are plans for rebuilding on the two adjoining lots. Construction should begin sometime in 2014. But there is no way to replace the loss of Tara Reistadt who lost her life that morning for no other reason that she showed up early for work.  God rest her soul. Following are several contemperaneous reports.
BOZEMAN, Mont. - A natural gas explosion and fire rocked downtown Bozeman on Thursday morning, collapsing three buildings, prompting evacuation of a two-block area and leaving one person missing, officials said.
Crews were allowing the fire to burn because officials hadn't been able to completely shut off a natural gas line.
Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said there were no reports of casualties, but said the rubble of the collapsed buildings was not yet safe to search.
"There's so much damage there and so much fire still that we cannot get our crews in," to search the rubble, Winn said.City officials said four businesses were destroyed — a restaurant, a bar, a gallery and a children's store — as well as an American Legion building.
The blast shook ceiling tiles at Schnee's Boots and Shoes three blocks from the explosion and knocked down shoes that were on display, said Dawn McClelland, who had just reported for work.
"The whole building shook," she said. "I thought somebody had rammed (a car) into the back of the building. The people up front thought the ceiling was falling in."
Read more:

Minutes after explosion and before fire spread to neighboring buildings.

Update Monday, March 9: Authorities have identified the one casualty of the blast as 36-year-old Tara Reistad Bowman, who was working at the Montana Trails Gallery at the time of the explosion. Bowman’s body was recovered from the rubble on Sunday.
There will be an auction and fundraiser for all those affected by the explosion on Saturday, March 18th from Noon until Midnight at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. Drop off points for auction items include: The Country Bookshef at 28 West Main, Downtown Antiques at 122 East Main, and Artistic Images at 25 North Willson. Donations of money can be sent to First Security Bank at 208 East Main. Checks should be made out to Downtown Bozeman Association for the downtown recovery fund.
Update Friday, March 6: Bozeman officials said at a press conference this morning that one person remains missing. Otherwise there were no injuries. The gas was turned off late last night and the fire is now smoldering and under control. National guard troops helped secure downtown last night. Fire crews are now beginning their investigation. Air quality from the smoke plume is a concern, and most of Main Street – from Rouse to Wilson – remains closed, though part of it is open to pedestrian traffic. Officials are checking the structural integrity of buildings in vicinity one by one. Business owners and others can call a hotline at 406-582-2300 to get the latest information.
Thursday, March 5th: An explosion early Thursday morning in downtown Bozeman destroyed several businesses, including two bars, an art gallery and the American Legion. Police officials confirmed this afternoon that only one person is unaccounted for and there are no reports yet on injuries.
The explosion happened at 8:12 a.m. at Boodles bar and restaurant and spread from there, destroying the nearby Rockin R bar, the Montana Trails Gallery, Lilly Lu’s and the American Legion. Starkey’s Deli is where the fire ceased; the popular lunch spot sustained extensive smoke and water damage but is still standing. On the other side, where the Rockin’ R was burned, crews worked to stop it from spreading into the Rocky Mountain Rug Gallery, which sustained mostly water damage.
City officials said at a press conference this afternoon that the crews have stopped the fire at Starkey’s Deli and have it contained at the Rockin’ R.
The fire is still burning, but Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said this afternoon it will go out once the gas gets shut off. Some lines were still burning — left so intentionally to make sure there was no build up anywhere. The governor said the gas will likely be shut off by 4:30 p.m.
The natural gas line that exploded dated back to the 1920-1930′s, said a representative of NorthWestern Energy, and didn’t have an emergency shutoff valve. NorthWestern Energy closed the valve on Black Street after digging it up, and was currently working on installing a valve on Rouse Street in order to isolate the exploded line.
The heart of natural gas service for Greater Bozeman is centrally located downtown, therefore downtown’s natural gas system could not be shut off without major implications for thousands of residents and buildings.
Crews haven’t been able to get into rubble to check for injured people or casualties. Winn said this morning: “There’s so much damage there and so much fire there that we can’t get our crews in to assess at this time … to do the kind of searches we typically do.”
NewWest.Net Bozeman editor Lucia Stewart says there’s glass shattered out of storefronts as far as four blocks away on Willson, and debris is spread in at least a 200-foot radius. Winn said this afternoon that cinderblocks from the site were found some two blocks away. Strangely, the window of the City Hall building where the press conference took place was also shattered, and actually framed the billowing smoke from the explosion site.
Main street is closed off from Rouse to Willson, but officials said parts of downtown may open late in the day. The 100 block of east Main (Rouse to Bozeman) is likely to be closed for several days, however.
Many business owners on Main Street cannot access their stores at this time, with many worried merchants curious about the security of their inventory now that the glass is broken out and inclement weather is expected to move in tonight. There are also concerns of frozen water pipes, since now that the gas is expected to be shut off by the late afternoon.

And from the New York Times,

BOZEMAN, Mont. — In the struggle to keep its historic core viable, this city, with throngs of college students, Yellowstone-bound tourists and wealthy second-home owners, has defied the trend of declining downtowns. Main Street is a bustling place.

The New York Times

But a natural gas explosion nearly two weeks ago ripped a hole in the heart of Bozeman’s downtown, killing a woman, leveling five historic buildings that contained thriving businesses and damaging several more whose condition will not be known for some time. Dozens of plate glass windows on Main Street were blown out.
Concern about the future of the historic downtown, a five-block stretch of Main Street and a block on either side, grew last week when investigators said the cause of the explosion was a leak in a gas line to one of the destroyed businesses, Montana Trails Gallery. The line was more than 70 years old. The woman who died, Tara Bowman, the gallery director, was working when the explosion occurred. City officials say that no estimate of damages has been released.
Beyond the obvious destruction, the blast delivered a deep psychic blow to the business district, which was already going through some difficulty because of the declining economy.

“The explosion has significantly rocked this community,” said Chris Pope, a commercial real estate agent and the owner of a severely damaged building. “People are holding their breath. The stark realities of doing business in 2009 is in the front of everybody’s mind. There will be businesses that leave downtown.”

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