On Thursday, March 5, a massive natural gas explosion rocked the 200 block of East Main Street, in the heart of Bozeman’s historic district. The blast completely destroyed five buildings, and most tragically, one woman was killed. Windows were blown out of buildings in the surrounding blocks, and only the intense and efficient work of the first responders kept the fire from spreading to adjacent properties.
The next day, another devastating fire ripped through four Main Street businesses in the small town of Whitehall, sixty miles west of Bozeman. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the brick and wood-frame buildings were gutted. Only the masonry exterior walls remain standing, which hopefully can be saved.
As these two communities rallied and began to clean up from the devastation, a third fire erupted. On Monday March 23, a fire began in the basement of a historic building undergoing rehabilitation in the 700 block of Main Street in Miles City. The fire rushed through the walls and to the roof, where high winds fanned the flames. Soon the adjacent buildings were aflame, and in the end, nine businesses, nearly the entire block, were destroyed. Happily, like in Whitehall, no one was injured.
Now that the smoke has cleared, each of these towns faces the daunting task of recovery. A dialogue between those connected to the properties continues. Many of the owners are committed to rebuilding, and sensitivity to the historic architecture along each of these Main Streets is at the forefront of these discussions. Fortunately, Bozeman and Miles City have active local preservation programs.
The National Trust and Montana Preservation Alliance have been in close conversation with city officials, Chambers of Commerce, life safety officers, structural engineers, architects, insurance companies, and property owners to offer assistance and to help craft a plan for recovery in each of these towns. As the Partners in the Field representative, I will remain actively engaged with each community to aid with stabilization and planning efforts and will continue to offer technical and, where possible, financial support.
-Kate Hampton, Most Endangered Places Program Director, Montana Preservation Alliance
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