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'A piece of history lost:' Downtown Gardiner businesses destroyed by fire

Posted at 8:39 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 22:39:34-04

The community of Gardiner is still shaken after a fire ripped through several businesses downtown.

The fire started Tuesday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. and burned through the night, while crews still fought to put them out throughout most of the day Wednesday..

Five businesses in downtown Gardiner were impacted, with four a total loss.

Many had apartments with people inside them above.

Witnesses say it started in Two Bit Saloon, then spread quickly.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Leslie Daher, who has lived in Gardiner for around 10 years. “What a big piece of history we’ve just lost.”

It’s a scene that Gardiner has not seen in decades, flames licking up and out of four businesses, leaping from building to building.

“2020 just keeps punching, it seems like,” says Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler. “Just when you think you might start to get a little bit of ground and then something like this happens, especially in a community that thrives on tourism and the types of things that they live off in this time of the season, it’s very heart-wrenching to see that stuff.”

One of Bichler’s deputies drove by Two Bit Saloon on Tuesday when Bichler says an employee ran to him for help.

“He went inside with just minimal fire suppression stuff that we carry in our patrol vehicles, tried to do what he could with it but unfortunately it was just too much fire,” Bichler says.

The deputy’s attention turned upward.

Above the saloon and the Yellowstone Raft Company were apartments with people, many seasonal employees at the businesses below, inside.

The sheriff says he wasn’t alone, as others started to pitch in.

“Just community members that were trying to do as much as they could to try to help suppress the fire, get people out safely,” Bichler says.

The fire gutted the saloon, filtering into the Yellowstone Raft Company and then Rosie’s Bistro behind it.

Red’s Blue Goose Saloon soon followed.

Meanwhile, fires burned in the basement of Rosie’s Bistro for hours into Wednesday.

“It was mind boggling,” Daher says. “You just saw smoke at first .”

Daher is also the secretary of Gardiner Community Church and a waitress at the Yellowstone Mine.

“I feel for the people who own these buildings,” Daher says. “I feel for our town that we lost all of this.”

She says the response on Facebook was staggering.

“The Gardiner Market is donating food,” Daher says. “They’ve been donating water and Gatorade for all of the first responders. Wonderland last night made, like, 60 burgers that they were—they had their employees running out.”

Others stepped up, too: Xanterra and other hotels donated towels and toiletries while other people began donating clothes.

Daher says other businesses joined in support.

“Wade Laba donated 30 cases of water and other people have been bringing water,” Daher says. “We’ve had locals buying gift cards at the Gardiner Market and just giving cash. We put out a call on Facebook to say these people have lost everything. Let’s get them bedding. We need towels. They’ll need toiletries, clothing and this town has just done it.”

“If there is a community that can stand in the face of adversity and stand back up, it’s this community, for sure,” Bichler says.

The Gardiner Pharmacy and Yellowstone Perk were also damaged with smoke and water.

But no one was hurt.

The exact cause is unknown and the intersection remains closed in the height of tourist season but businesses nearby remain open.

“The hundreds of thousands or millions of vehicles over the years that have come through this intersection is tremendous, so the loss of historical buildings and stuff like that is quite the blow to the Gardiner community,” Bichler says.

Something both the sheriff and Leslie say is not a shock to them at all.

“It’s such a heartwarming thing in such a heartbreaking situation. It’s such a terrible thing for our community but then to see how everybody just wants to help wants to make everyone’s lives better is so wonderful to see.”

The sheriff says it’s a good idea to expect the intersection to be closed off for some time.

As for helping out in other ways, community members tell us you can help by continuing to support local businesses that are open nearby.