Full Throttle Saloon fire ruled accidental

A fire that completely destroyed an iconic Sturgis, SD, biker bar was started accidentally, according to investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The 8 September fire started in the main part of the bar and caused roughly $10 million in damage according to investigators.

The Full Throttle Saloon was a well-known biker hangout generally only open during the weeks surrounding the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The bar billed itself as "the World's Largest Biker Bar" and at is busiest could accommodate some 20,000 visitors. 

The bar was not open when the fire started and no one was injured. Investigators say the fire was able to spread rapidly because much of the building had been constructed of wood and there were no sprinkler systems. Firefighters had struggled to contain the blaze because the nearest hydrant was more than a mile away. 

The fire has exposed a number of safety issues facing Sturgis venues, with many similar locations and campgrounds being allowed to ignore certain safety standards thanks to lax regulation. In a report by the Rapid City Journal, Meade County Commission Chairman Alan Aker suggested that if the fire had occurred during the week of the rally it might have resulted in large-scale loss of life.

"It's always been one of my nightmares," he told the newspaper.

In 2003, a fire in a bar in Rhode Island killed 100 people. Investigators of that fire said if the bar had been equipped with a sprinkler system the 350 people at The Station bar that night would have been able to exit safely.

According to the Rapid City Journal, however, Full Throttle Saloon owner Michael Ballard said such a system would not have been necessary at his bar.

"People could've gotten out of there — hell, my donkey was smart enough to get out of there," he told the paper.

Meanwhile Ballard has said he is unsure of what he will do in light of the bar's destruction. Responding to apparent fundraising efforts by fans he recently said on Facebook: "While we truly appreciate the support we are asking everyone to please hold off until we have a better idea of what direction we will be going."


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