Bozeman Devastated--The Day After

Bozeman yesterday suffered a devastation downtown, when five businesses and three historic buildings on our Main Street were destroyed in a natural gas explosion and fire. Dozens more structures, businesses, and lives were impacted. I returned home immediately upon hearing, to offer any help or support I could, and I'll write more of my time at the scene, my conversations with city, state, and federal officials, but for now, here are my first statements about the event.
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Probably, many of you have seen the front pages of today's newspapers from around the state, and watched television accounts showing and reporting yesterday's devastating explosion and fire in downtown Bozeman.

But watching in person, as I did Thursday afternoon, puts an entirely different perspective on seeing hopes and dreams go up in flames for business owners, employees, and citizens alike. The scene was one of utter devastation. There was the crackle of the fire, the smell of acrid smoke, destroyed vehicles on the street, and debris everywhere. I walked around the blast site and saw pieces of girders, cinder blocks and bricks, wood beams, and glass--glass everywhere. The amount of water on the fire was simply amazing, and black water ran in the street. The scene was devastating, but the emergency response was immediate, coordinated, orderly, and unflinching.

When I flew immediately to Bozeman yesterday to see the conflagration and find out what state help might apply, my acquaintanceship was renewed with the unhesitating professionalism of those we sometimes casually call 'public safety people.'

Firefighters on the towering aerial ladders above the flames and those all around the site have trained a long time for firefighting and rescue, and did it without a second thought. The police officers and sheriffs deputies with their backs to another possible explosion shooed away spectators to a respectable distance for their own good. They take risks every day in my behalf and in yours. Workers from the natural gas company responded to attempt a fix.

Our National Guard is on the scene helping to secure the site of the explosion and the businesses and blocks around the site, and I am grateful for such a fine and responsive force in my city's time of need. Our emergency responders, city, state, and federal, all have come together to handle this emergency. NorthWestern Energy workers were on the scene about an hour after the explosion, tearing up the alley on the affected block to install stoppage valves in the natural gas line. It took them 17 1/2 hours to get the gas shut off.

My deepest thanks to all such public safety and public utility workers who do these things at every emergency without a flinch. They're great.

It also was gratifying to witness the instant response of city government, smoothly putting into action its well-thought-out plan for handling disasters. Their planning for various emergency scenarios covered every base.

This terrible accident may well be the largest property damage disaster in Bozeman history. Our city has been devastated structurally, historically, economically, and socially. And of course my heart goes out to the family and friends of the person still unaccounted for in this tragedy.

Bozeman's downtown is a real gem among Montana city centers. That mercantile vibrancy is testament to the hard work and investment of its store owners and workers, who are remarkably successful at attracting and holding repeat buyers week after week, year after year.

Bozeman will recover because of the can-do attitude and resilience of the shopkeepers there. I should point out that other store owners around town started calling the victims of this disaster right away, offering help of any kind. Downtown business owners worried for their own shops came to city hall to ask how they could help others affected by the blast, immediately. That's the kind of town it is.

Finally, thank you for your prayers and sympathies. Montana Legislatures past and present have also played a key role, helping to provide things like the public safety services, planning funds and expertise, highway money, safety regulations, unemployment benefits and the myriad of government services that come into play during such awful events.

This event will impact us deeply in the days, months, and years to come. Bozeman has changed, but I ask for your help as we move forward through this emergency.


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