Bozeman explosion

by Pete Talbot

(Final update: this post is still getting a lot of traffic.  4&20 has done some follow up but others are tracking this story better than we can.  At this point, I’d recommend the Chronicle.  If anybody else has leads, please nest them below the first comment  after this post.  Thanks, PT)

A relative in Bozeman called this morning to say that an explosion downtown had leveled a building and fire was threatening to spread to adjacent structures. On top of that, I hear there’s a serious snowstorm going on, hampering emergency crews’ efforts.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there was no loss of life or serious injuries.

The explosion was apparently caused by a gas leak and the building destroyed, I’ve been told, housed the well-known restaurant called Boodles.

There are few details yet. Here’s the link to the Bozeman Chronicle, which I assume will have updates.

Bozeman was my second home for awhile and I had an apartment across the street and down a block from Boodles. On occasion, I’d have a martini or two at that fine establishment. My sympathy goes out to the owners and workers in that area downtown.

(UPDATE: Apparently, windows were blown out in at least a one block radius. The famous Rocking R Bar (which also housed a Pickle Barrel sandwich shop) is also threatened by fire. The NBC affiliate in Bozeman’s website is down at this point but a “thank you” to those commenting below and adding other links.)

  1. bh

    My dad lives in the neighborhood and says it’s pretty bad, broken windows and debris for blocks. I hope it was early enough in the morning that no one was there. There are some photos here:

  2. ben

    I live approx. 6 blocks away from the site. At 8 this morning I heard what sounded like something dropping in the apartment above me, followed by a shaking. Later I could see a large plume of dark smoke rising outside.

  3. sounds like everyone is safe.

  4. I was 2 and half blocks away when it blew. I heard a big ‘whoomp’, and my truck shook. The concussion wave was strong enough that it knocked a person standing across Mainstreet on their butt. A great way to begin the day … if you’re an adrenaline junkie.

    • emtgirl7998

      As of the 2pm press conf. there is still one person not accounted for. The explosion took out Boodles, Lily Lu’s, and Montana Trail Gallery. We heard the explosion and felt the rumble about 2 miles away. It has been snowing here all mornings so the smoke cloud was not visable right away. Two people made it out of the Rockin R Bar right after it happened. We have another storm coming in around 5. Ironically we have not had much snow/storms for the last 1-2 months but have two during this incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the emergency workers on site at this time.

      • bigr18

        Actually nobody was in the r bar or boodles at all this morning. I am a bartender at the r

        • emtgirl7998

          I am so glad!! I have never been happier to be wrong! Any word on if they located the 1 person they could find as of the last NC? My thoughts and prayers are with you and you co-workers!

  5. mary

    there is a loss of life – an employee from a business from what i’ve been told

  6. I was at Emily Dickinson School and heard the explosion
    loud and clear. It sounded like cannon fire. My
    thoughts and prayers go up for all who are effected.

  7. andy

    Did the R Bar get demolished…I read that it did. I hope not… I have incredible memories with that place…albeit drinking and puking…I don’t live in Boz anymore. But it’s sad to see those historic buildings wiped out! I lived there for eight years. I’ve always missed it!

  8. andy

    Even one person is too many!

    Once again, Did the R BAR GET DEMOLISHED?

    Perhaps this sounds strange but to me R Bar and Bozone are synonomous. If it did I’ll really be bummed, like I’ve lost an old friend. When I return to the Bozone for visits I always go there and have a Budweiser in the bottle just for nostalgia. That is was I often drank then. “Course I can barely choke one down now. I have no idea how many times we started our Friday nights with Quarter beers there.

  9. emtgirl7998

    I think it did. If not in the explosion it was destroyed in the fire. I hate to say its gone. I think a lot of people feel the same. I was a landmark here!

  10. andy

    Thanks for the reply emtgirl. I found some raw footage and I could see flames right next to the classic R BAr sign. Man I hope they can save that sign.

    Damb. Damb!!

    It’s unbelievable how the memories are flooding back. Strange. I guess what I’m already missing the most is that tall Bud that I’ll never have there again and all the memories that rush thru me when I get back there. It was always so much fun to tell the young bartenders stories of my party days there…24 years ago……………………………..

    So long ol’ Rockin R BAr I’ll miss ya!

  11. Greg

    I do know this for a fact. A friend of a co-worker of mine was in the Legion when this went off. As I understand the story, he smelled what he thought was gas and went to call someone. He blacked out for a couple of minutes and was able to leave the Legion before the building collapsed in on itself. I must say that there was a guardian with him today.

  12. Mama Cass in Colorado

    Both my sons were working at the new parking garage this a.m. when the explosion happened. I am not surprised by their immediate reaction, they ran to nearby businesses to turn off natural gas mains and to shout evacuation orders to stunded people. I am grateful they are alive . My thoughts are with the people of Bozeman. I am truly sorry for your loss.

  13. goof houlihan

    Long day in Bozeman today. One person remains unaccounted for. That is a tragedy. Less tragic, but still a total bummer, is that five buildings, Lily Lu’s, Montana Trails? art gallery, Boodles, the Legion, and the Rockin R are completely demolished. The rug business has major damage, although his inventory may be okay, it’s likely that building will be demolished as well. Starkeys is in bad shape. I don’t believe the explosion was in Boodles, but no one is investigating until the gas is shut off and the fire put out.

    Much of downtown remains sealed up tight. At midnight, NE crews finally got the gas mains shut down and were able to turn the electricity on to part of the northern side of main.

    The Rockin R is gone, the sign bent and broken on the street. Bozeman will never be the same, and certainly this is a day that in a hundred years whatever media will be in place will commemorate. It’s a catastrophe for those business owners, and for the business owners across the street, already hurting from a poor economy.

    The Governor flew down.

    But it is the fire and emergency services and public works crews that ruled the day. Fire crews put in long hours and controlled a raging fire while saving much of the rug company’s inventory. There was plenty of water from the water department and the street crews and parks crews worked on boarding up most of the broken windows on Main Street. Star was new Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn, recently moved over from Fire Chief, handling the press conferences with a cool demeanor.

    Deputy Police Chief Mark LaChapelle handled two major meetings with downtown businesses. Right this minute Mark is making sure a business people can get into their businesses in the most recently cleared block…at one am.

    Public Works director Debbie Arkell ran crews, called for and got private contractors to volunteer help, and took notes and even wrote down the phone numbers the Governor brought us. MSU President Geoff Gamble offered temporary jobs to those who won’t be employed at the various businesses.

    Dozens of local businesses donated food and beverages, and dozens of contractors and others called to volunteer equipment and skilled labor.

    Don’t tell me this town aint’ got no heart…

  14. MJ

    It’s kind of absurd that there are actually some peeps out there that are trully sad pertaining to the fact that they lost a drinking establishment.
    If you can even emagine the loss that the residents alone have incured and not only that the owners themselves as well as the friends and employees of such addresses that have been directly affected by such event you couldn’t see the fact that you can still get drunk some where but you can never feel what our fellow neighbors are going through right now.
    If anyone is thinking about spending energy on writing something(typing- so forth) write something that supports, remembers inhibits a prayer for our lost friend- thx and god bless for that we still have our fiesty and strong community-

    • emtgirl7998

      Mama Cass…Kudos to your boys! I recently moved to Bozeman and am an EMT but am not affiliated with any Emergency Service here. It killed me to stay at home and not go help, however I would only have been in the way. I am so wow’d by Bozeman’s response to this tragedy, and all of Montana for that matter! I am so glad that I moved to a place where everyone cares so much and is there for each other. I am so proud of my fellow Firefighters, EMS, and Emergency Response teams that worked so hard and are still working to save what they can and secure the area. I have never been prouder to be associated with such remarkable people.

      MJ- I think that when you are not directly affected, (or know someone personally that is) you loose the perspective that other people’s lives were devastated. Thank you for reminding me (and I’m sure others) that there are a lot of people hurting right now and there is also a lot to be thankful for (as horrible as this is, it could have been LOTS worse).

      My prayers are with everyone affected by this tragedy.

    • Jim Lang

      MJ, while you are certainly entitled to your opinion, you’re definitely not entitled to dictate what people should say or how they should say it.

    • lilred

      I don’t think it’s the “drinking establishment” that is the thought, but the nostalgia of the place, the memories. To many of us that attended college in Bozeman, it’s a piece of our youth, which is valuale too. Please don’t forget that. It’s irrevelant whether or not drinking took place there – it’s the building, the people, the memories that make people sad. Of course everyone is saddened by the loss of life, by the irreplacable art work that is gone, etc., but the thing that is personal to them, the memories, is going to be the first thing that comes out. Please allow others to mourn in their own way and STOP JUDGING!

  15. kcatz


    what you don’t understand is that ALOT of people thought of those establishments and their employees as family. This is not a big city where you don’t know the owners and vice versa, so when someone says they are going to miss the R Bar it is like they have lost a friend or family member. The R Bar and American Legion were bars down the street “where everybody knew your name.”

  16. Now, Whitehall is on fire.

  17. goof houlihan

    A couple of observations, no real update.

    No real update, just a usual comment.

    This is a disaster and I am glad people will relate however they can. Half “the long block” of downtown Bozeman is destroyed. This at a time when maybe fifteen percent of the businesses there are struggling mightily there will likely be more quit like Army Navy and go dark. These buildings and business owners, though, were one and the same.

    I watched a business owner scoop up a brick and take it home. I watched another plead to have two architectural features set aside. I don’t doubt the firemen will drag the R bar’s sign, saved for decades, aside to be reconditioned, as the owners begged to have done. Don’t dismiss this as some “just a place to get drunk” thing. Downtowns in Montana have bars, are energized by bars…and I don’t underestimate that. A southern boy once sung, “and a good saloon in every single town.” It’s one of the things I appreciated about the West too.

    Now, back to people. The person is still missing, and rumors abound that she was cut off mid phone conversation while sitting at her desk. No name is released and the debris are frozen, or still hot, and it’s all dangerous. The authorities are respecting the family and not releasing anything else. You may hear criticism about why the firefighters didn’t drop everything and search for the person while the fire was on going. Such anger is understandable as one of the stages of grief.

    The picture that is most prevalent on the web is that taken right after the explosion. You can’t rely on that as an accurate depiction of what has really happened. The R bar looks relatively undamaged but the two buildings to the east, right, of Boodles are destroyed. Well, that rubble was on fire, not obviously in that photo. It burned for 18 hours as the NE crews tried to cut off the gas lines. The Legion, which looks unhurt in the photo, is burned and gutted, with only a small part in the front standing. The building Starkeys is in is badly damaged from fire, smoke and water and it’s not in the photo. To the west, the Rockin R is gutted and falling down and the building with the rug company looks tenuous and tottering.

    The intense fire that followed the blast precluded any rescue attempt, and after consuming buildings exposed the blast crater. This was a huge explosion.

    People who go downtown and are solidly attached to their town should be prepared for an emotional reaction to the damage. I was emotional. The building/business owners were emotional. My wife was emotional. These buildings are from the nineteenth century, I think, and we aren’t going to be the same place without them. But they are buildings, not people, and I’m sure this block will not long remain rubble or turn into a parking lot. We will rebuild.

    If there’s any silver lining, perhaps we set aside some of that famous Bozeman bickering for a while and pull together; if you’re inclined to spend a few bucks, make sure it’s downtown or with a downtown business. If you’re inclined to snipe at bar owners, or at chi chi shops of art or high end clothing, stop. I don’t want to end with too much of a moral tag, but it’s been a fine opportunity to show our stuff. Let’s keep that going.

    • Thanks goof.

      Regarding that rescue effort. I understand their grief, and I also know that those rescue and recovery workers want badly to give some level of closure to that family. Safety must come first, so I hope everyone considers that when wondering why it is taking so long. There is a pile of sticks and bricks and steel that has to be move carefully to ensure that further loss of life does not occur along with trying to figure out how this all happened in the event that something may be learned.

      Bozeman folks, employees, volunteers did a fantabulous job under crazy circumstances – what was it? 16″ of snow on Thursday? – it’s a situation to be proud over.

      Prayers for the family.

      • Bob

        Numerous friends of the young woman who remains “unaccounted for” have scheduled 12 hours over the next two days in a celebratory/memorial kind of way to fold as many as 2,000 origami cranes. Below is the text of an email regarding the event. I have deleted the **** family name of the woman who was killed in the blast in downtown Bozeman, since that information apparently has not yet been made public. Here is the text of the email:

        >>>Folding 1000 paper origami cranes is an old Japanese tradition to facilitate healing of any kind. You are invited to fold paper cranes as an offering to Bozeman community families and friends whose lives were changed, in so many ways, by the explosion in downtown Bozeman.

        The first 1000 cranes will be presented to the **** family. The remaining cranes will be presented to the Bozeman community and displayed for all. If you would like to participate in this community event, please make and mail your cranes to P.O. Box 1603, Bozeman, MT 59771.

        Links below for folding instructions. It takes a little practice, don’t give up!<<<

  18. The Governor’s behavior during the tragedy can fairly be described as the “Katrina Syndrome” … look like you’re doing something, or be pilloried.

    • I disagree, though Goof is likely in better position to do so than I am. Mobilization of the national guard to assist in protecting the perimeter of danger and property security should they be needed is definitely something. Making state resources available to our elected representatives during this crisis was definitely something. Appealing for federal aid in reconstruction and resource management less than 5 hours after the explosion is definitely something. All of those are specifically the job of the Governor, and he performed that job as he should.

      If you have something to impart that is specific about this “syndrome” of which you write, kindly do so.

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