Community gathering place burns

David Melmer
3/14/01

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - A fire the afternoon of March 5 shut down Big Bats, a local gathering spot for locals and travelers alike. But it's only temporary.

The fire started about 2 p.m. and was out nearly four hours later through the efforts of the Pine Ridge Fire Department. It is not known how long the entire store will be closed, but Bat Pourier, owner of the business, said if the insurance company agrees, he could have gasoline sales ready before any rebuilding takes place.

"I'm in shock. I've built and remodeled these things but have never had a fire," Pourier said.

First reports said the cause of the fire was electrical, but after further investigation the exact cause is not clear. Pourier said investigators would look at the possibility a propane leak from underground was ignited by the electrical system.

The entire roof of the structure will have to be replaced. Insulation and metal truss brackets fell to the floor of the building, which suffered extensive smoke damage. The outside walls appear to be in sound condition, Pourier said.

He added that it would be up to the insurance company whether or not a new roof and remodeling would be an option or if the entire structure would be condemned. He said it all depended on the dollar figure. Early figures indicated the loss would be nearly $500,000.

A structural insurance inspector stepped onto the roof and said it was cracking, so he got off. Pourier said they were worried that a large air conditioning unit on the roof could suddenly crash to the floor.

Pourier said insurance should help take care of the nearly 40 employees. The business is in the slowest part of the year. At the peak Big Bats employs some 80 people, he said.

"These are good people and I don't want to lose them. They have families to take care of."

He said when the business is rebuilt, it will be better and probably larger than before. It will take on a different look and a different color. "We were getting tired of the color." But, he added, this was not the way to go about making changes.

"We do provide a service to the community and we plan to continue."

There are two other service stations in Pine Ridge and other places to eat, but as Pourier said, Big Bats is a "gathering place."

Pourier and his wife Patty own two other Big Bats, one in Chadron, Neb., the other in Hot Springs.

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