Justin Post — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Photo by Scott Hamilton

Flames rip through buildings in downtwon Gardiner Tuesday afternoon. The fire destroyed four businesses located in three buildings. There were no injuries.

A white cloud of smoke hung over the community of Gardiner Wednesday morning after an intense fire raged through the night, destroying two iconic watering holes and displacing some 20 residents.

The Two Bit Saloon and the Blue Goose Saloon were gutted in the blaze, along with Rosie’s Bistro and the Yellowstone Raft Company. There were no injuries. 

The four businesses are located in the heart of Gardiner, a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park. The properties are owned by Florida residents Chuck and Lisa Curtis, who said they climbed in their vehicle and started driving toward Gardiner after learning of the fire.

“We’re just very heartbroken for all of Gardiner,” Lisa Curtis said Wednesday. “This is a huge part of our town’s history.”

Chuck Tanner, proprietor of the Two Bit Saloon, stood outside the business early Wednesday morning speaking with law enforcement and other emergency responders as flames licked through a broken-out window.

Tanner said he received phone calls and text messages throughout the night from people across the United States and beyond inquiring about the fire.

One woman “from back east” called in tears to share her memory of a young man — who would later become her husband — asking her to dance one night at the Two Bit more than 50 years ago, Tanner said as smoke from the fire wafted into his face.

Tanner said a portion of the Two Bit Saloon building at one time was a brothel with a number of small rooms, which he used to house eight employees.

“It made for great employee housing,” he said.

Tanner said another eight to 12 people lived on top of Rosie’s. Members of the Gardiner community have stepped forward to provide the residents of the two buildings temporary housing, Tanner said.

“The community’s been really good,” he said. “There’s plenty of people stepping up. I’ll take some people into my house.”

Paradise Valley residents Jason and Brittni Mayfield sat on the curb across from the Two Bit Wednesday morning watching firefighters put water on hot spots through what used to be the building’s roof.

The two had operated a food trailer, Nomad Taco, for the past month in the courtyard next to the Two Bit Saloon but will move the trailer back to Emigrant 

The Mayfields were in Gardiner Tuesday evening as flames tore through the buildings. They said the fire was intense and that heat from the blaze could be felt across the street where they said a crowd had gathered.

Jason Mayfield reflected on the history of the Two Bit Saloon, which he said has been a popular Gardiner bar for generations with many notable visitors passing through its doors over the years.

The couple agreed that the community rallied during the fire, with people even using garden hoses to fight back the flames and help protect their taco trailer.

“It was beautiful — very kind,” Jason Mayfield said.

Fire officials were working Wednesday to cool down the buildings so fire investigators could enter the property, said Gardiner Gateway Hose Company Fire Chief Bob Kopland.

Fire officials at the scene were calling for mutual aid assistance and equipment as late as 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Kopland said the fire burned hot and fast, with debris falling into the basement of the properties. The fire is believed to have started in the Two Bit Saloon and spread to the neighboring Blue Goose and Rosie’s, he said.

He said crews used an excavator on Tuesday to pull down rafters in the Blue Goose to stop the fire from spreading.

“They had to take out the Goose to save the rest of the block,” Tanner said.

Kopland said the buildings in the area share interconnected roofs and common walls and the excavator was able to create a fire break.

“It was like we’re going to have to stop this or we’re going to lose more structures because they’re all interconnected,” Kopland said.

The state fire marshal was on scene Wednesday morning and Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said his department would be manning the site around the clock.

Bichler, who was also at the fire Wednesday morning, said an arson investigator from the Park County Sheriff’s Office would be working the scene.

It’s unknown what started the fire, Kopland said.

Tanner, who lives in Emigrant, said he was en route to Gardiner at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday when his bartender called and reported smoke coming from a food-prep area in the Two Bit Saloon.

Tanner said he does not believe it was a grease fire, as there was no grease kept in the food-prep area.

Before the fire was even reported to law enforcement dispatch, Deputy Rhenon Stoddard with the Park County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to smoke inside the Two Bit and leapt into action. Stoddard, who was driving in the area in his patrol vehicle, went into the Two Bit Saloon and attempted to knock back the flames using fire extinguishers, Sheriff Bichler said.

That wasn’t effective, however, and Stoddard went to work evacuating the building, Bichler said. 

Firefighters from multiple departments in Park County as well as the National Park Service responded to the blaze, some working through the night.

Kopland said fire officials are considering demolishing the three burned-out buildings, to allow traffic to move through the area again. Traffic is currently being rerouted around the scene toward the Gardiner School and on to the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

“There’s nothing to rebuild,” Kopland said.

Lisa Curtis, the property owner, said she’s in “disbelief” over the fire but thankful there were no injuries.

“We’re just so thankful everybody is safe,” she said. “It could have gone in such a horrible other direction.”