Search Turns Up No Victims in Bozeman Explosion

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – A daylong search through the ruins Friday turned up no victims after a natural gas explosion and fire that collapsed three buildings in downtown Bozeman a day earlier.

One woman remained unaccounted for. She has not been identified.

“I’m really concerned with the person that’s missing and my heart and prayers go out to that person and their family,” Bozeman Mayor Kaaren Jacobsen said.

Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn, the city’s former fire chief, said early Friday evening that the fire department had been working on the search since morning.

“As of right now, we have not found any victims; but snow and ice have certainly hampered the speed at which we’re able to investigate the site,” Winn said.

Subfreezing weather froze the thousands of gallons of water poured on the fire and snow fell on top of the ice, Winn said. He said the search would be suspended Friday night and resumed at first light Saturday.

“Even though we have a lot of (emergency) scene lighting, it just isn’t safe and isn’t productive to search in the dark” in the ice and snow, Winn told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Thursday’s explosion and fire 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.

“The whole thing is tragic,” Jacobsen said. “We had five good businesses down there and it’s a blow to downtown and the community.

“Our downtown is our jewel and we need to find the funds from the state and federal funds to get those businesses on their feet again and up and running,” the mayor told KBZK-TV.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., toured the site Friday afternoon and said his office will do what it can to help.

“We’ll try to look under every rock we can find, and try to find some other dollars … try to get them back on their feet,” Tester told KBZK.

Winn said most of Main St. in the downtown area would reopen to vehicles and pedestrians at around 8 a.m. Saturday.

“We’ve been able to get power and gas restored to most of Main Street, except for the affected block,” he said

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.