STURGIS, S.D. -- A fast-moving fire just after midnight Tuesday destroyed the Full Throttle Saloon, a popular Sturgis Motorcycle Rally destination that bills itself as the “world’s largest blue collar biker bar.”
Sturgis Assistant Fire Chief Scott Lensegrav said the call came in about 12:17 a.m. and eight minutes later, smoke was pouring out of all the windows. By 12:45 a.m., the fire was through the roof.
“It was pretty much fully engulfed when we got there,” Lensegrav said. Although the winds were only at about 10 to 15 mph, he said the makeup of the bar with its plywood, treated decking and 2x4s allowed the fire to spread quickly. He said he didn’t know if an adjoining distillery that the bar used to make moonshine starting a few years ago may have fueled the fire.
The lone occupant at the bar was awoken as the fire started and escaped injury, Lensegrav said. The bar’s mascot, Emmett the donkey, also escaped and was found later in the day in a nearby pasture.
The fire department remained on the scene throughout the day to mop-up operations.
Although the state fire marshal started the investigation, Lensegrav said agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from Sioux Falls were called in to “pinpoint the cause of the fire,” Lensegrav said.
“It’ll just bring in more eyes and knowledge in trying to find the cause of the fire,” he said.
The bar, also the site of a reality television show that aired for five seasons starting in 2009 and ending in early 2014, was known for its musical entertainment and other attractions, especially during the rally. This past year -- the 75th anniversary of the rally -- some of the featured bands were Foghat, Jackyl, Molly Hatchet, Bret Michaels and Tanya Tucker. Besides cabins to rent, the bar also featured entertainment such as midget wrestling, bike shows, a zipline and dancers.
“It was definitely an interesting place,” said Christina Steele, public information officer for the city of Sturgis. “It had a little bit of everything.”
In addition to those other attractions, she said it was also well known for its bridge inside the bar where motorcycles would drive across and do burnouts.
Steele said multi-millionaire Michael Ballard of Tennessee has owned the bar for the past 16 years, buying it on Nov. 1, 1999, according to records.
He operated it with his employee-girlfriend turned wife Angie during the summer months with the assistance of rock star and best-friend Jesse James Dupree of the band Jackyl, according to the bar’s website. During the rally, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people would be at the bar each night.
The bar is closed during the rest of the year, said Steele. There has been no indication if the bar will be rebuilt, but Lensegrav said Ballard was flying in Tuesday to view the damage.