BOZEMAN — One person is unaccounted for after a natural gas explosion rocked downtown Bozeman Thursday morning, collapsing three buildings, city officials said.
Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said initially 11 people were unaccounted for after the explosion and fire that destroyed Boodles restaurant, the Rocking R Bar, Montana Trails Gallery, the American Legion building and Lily Lu’s children’s store.
“Through the work of the police department, we were able to account for nine of those people,” Winn said during a press conference. He later said a tenth person had been located.
The explosion happened at about 8:15 a.m. in the 200 block of Main Street.
Crews allowed the fire to burn into Thursday afternoon because NorthWestern Energy crews were unable to completely shut off the natural gas.
Winn, the former fire chief, said the rubble of the collapsed buildings was not yet safe to search.
“There’s so much damage there and so much fire still that we cannot get our crews in,” to search the rubble, Winn said.
Witnesses reported seeing debris fly three times the height of the two-story building. Glass windows on downtown storefronts two blocks away were shattered by the blast.
The blast shook ceiling tiles at Schnee’s Boots and Shoes three blocks from the explosion and knocked down shoes that were on display, but no one was hurt, said Dawn McClelland, who had just reported for work when the blast happened.
“The whole building shook,” she said. “I thought somebody had rammed (a car) into the back of the building. The people up front thought the ceiling was falling in.”
Two hours later, McClelland was preparing to leave as a haze hung over downtown. The store was closed for the day.
Students at the Hawthorne School in Bozeman were moved to the Bozeman Public Library due to possible air quality concerns, Superintendent Kirk Miller said early Thursday afternoon.