‘Stick by Stick’ Probe to Follow Bozeman Explosion

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – Hazards following an explosion that collapsed three buildings in downtown Bozeman subsided on Friday, allowing investigators new access to search rubble for anyone who may have been a victim of the blast and fire. One woman remained unaccounted for.

Debris from Thursday morning’s natural-gas explosion will be searched “stick by stick,” said Chuck Winn, assistant city manager and former fire chief. Apart from the woman whose whereabouts were unknown, officials said they knew of no one else who may have been caught in the blast that rocked Main Street.

Conditions Thursday prevented searching for the woman.

The explosion that left a hole in the downtown street scene destroyed Boodles restaurant, the Rocking R Bar, Montana Trails art gallery, the American Legion building and Lily Lu’s children’s store. Windows at some other businesses were shattered.

The Rocking R operated downtown for years and had clung to an image as a cowboy hangout — even though many of the patrons were Montana State University students — but then got a facelift that put the establishment more in tune with the increasingly trendy downtown. The Montana Trails Gallery featured Western paintings and sculpture.

Winn said Friday that officials were working to reopen Main Street, and were escorting business owners who wished to check on their establishments. Complications in the effort to reopen the street included the condition of a building that remained standing, but with walls that were not straight.

Children who were moved Thursday from an elementary school near downtown were back in their classrooms on Friday. Air quality at Hawthorne School had been among concerns that led officials to move children to the public library. Conditions at Hawthorne were checked before the start of the school day on Friday and were found safe, said Kirk Miller, the Bozeman school superintendent.

Winn praised the community for cooperation in the aftermath of the blast and said offers of assistance had been generous.

“When you have a bad day, you find out who your friends are,” he said.

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