MILES CITY – Fire raged through a block of historic buildings on Miles City’s Main Street on Monday, destroying at least nine businesses and damaging others.
Mayor Joe Whalen said the fire apparently started in a wall between Family Floral and Copper Thimble. It climbed up the wall to the attic and spread from there to both of those businesses, and a bar under construction in the same building.
The fire’s cause has not been determined, and Whalen said he expected firefighters would be battling the blaze through the night.
Among the business casualties are the Cellar Casino; Family Floral; Copper Thimble, a fabric store; and Good Things, a novelty and housewares store. A beauty shop and insurance agency also were lost. A bar under construction was also destroyed.
Whalen says the business losses account for 40 to 50 jobs.
“When the fire goes out, we’re not done,” the mayor said. “We’ve got a huge recovery process in front of us.”
No injuries were reported, but a person helping move gaming machines out of harm’s way had chest pains and was taken to the hospital, Whalen said.
North winds of 30 mph with gusts up to 38 mph blew smoke and fire, adding to the difficulty of fighting the stubborn blaze in buildings that may have been around 100 years old. Flames could spread easily through the nooks and crannies of a century of remodeling in the multistory buildings.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer toured the fire scene about 2:15 p.m. and offered use of the National Guard; but the mayor said he hopes it won’t be necessary.
“There is an ungodly amount of thick, black smoke,” Whalen said.
Most of the buildings in the area, including City Hall, were evacuated because of the poor air quality.
A block to the west, patrons of the Montana Bar leaned against a brass rail in the tavern’s Main Street window drinking Budweiser and watching firefighters dump thousands of gallons of water on the fire.
“We heard a couple walls fall down,” said Jason Gierke, who had been watching the disaster for several hours. “It sounded like thunder.”
Several dozen people watched the scene from outside the Buffalo Tavern, but the bone-chilling wind chased them back indoors.
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