An overloaded power strip started a fire at Challis Lanes shortly after midnight Nov. 26, and owner Bill Baker says he will rebuild.
“This is an entertainment institution in Challis, especially with teenagers,” said Baker. “I don’t want that to go away.”
Baker said he is waiting word from his insurance company’s adjuster to find out how much his policy will cover toward the cost of repairs. Until those details are worked out, no time frame to reopen the bowling alley and restaurant has been determined.
North Custer Rural Fire District Chief Launna Gunderson said the power strip became overloaded because a space heater was plugged into it. Gunderson reminded people to plug space heaters directly into outlets, not any sort of power strip or extension cord.
“They can overheat whatever they’re connected to and power strips are especially bad,” Gunderson said.
Custer County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Sgt. Levi Maydole assisted Gunderson in the inspection of the fire. He said the loss of the bowling alley hits him hard. He said Challis Lanes has been an attraction in the community since the 1960s.
“It was the hangout for a lot of people,” Maydole said.
At 12:16 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, the alarm went out that Challis Lanes was on fire. Volunteer firefighters were on the scene until 5:50 a.m.
“It takes a while to make sure a fire that size is out,” Gunderson said. “It’s not uncommon for fires that big to have a couple of hot spots that last for days.”
Firefighters arrived on the scene with three engines and two support vehicles at 12:31 a.m. They contained the fire at 1:50 a.m. No firefighter was injured and because the bowling alley was closed, no one was inside when the fire broke out.
Gunderson completed an inspection with Deputy State Fire Marshal Brian Owens later Tuesday, after a two-hour break for sleep.
“When we have a fire this big we like to call in the marshals,” Gunderson said. “They deal with bigger stuff more often.”
Gunderson said 14 volunteers responded to the fire, four of them coming from the Pahsimeroi Valley.
The biggest challenge firefighters faced was the below-freezing temperatures. The weather was so cold Gunderson and her crew had to change their gloves several times because they froze from the water being used to fight the fire.
“We couldn’t even roll up our hoses,” said Gunderson. “They were frozen and we had to let warm up back at the fire hall.”
She said even though it was an accident, it could have been avoided.
“Fire prevention is about getting alarms and avoiding accidents like this,” said Gunderson. “My heart goes out to the owner and the community for the loss of the bowling alley.”
Gunderson thanked EMTs and the Sheriff’s Office for their assistance. She said her crew would not have been able to control such a big fire without outside help.