A strong survivor

The building right next door was fully engulfed. The fire had spread the early morning of Jan. 5 from the west building to the east building. The two buildings under construction in the Chateau Apartment complex in Minot were no more, save for two scarred elevator shafts and the partial remains of the eastern building.

“I got a phone call at 6:45 and basically raced down here,” said Jon Schmidt, the general manager of the Lamplighter Lounge, just to the west of the Chateau fire, in an interview Thursday.

“This whole area was blocked off from people trying to get to work,” Schmidt said. “Luckily, my brother was here and we basically talked to the fire chief, and he said, ‘You know, we’re going to save your building,’ while the buildings are burning down behind him. It was an intense situation and we couldn’t do anything but watch from our vehicle. But they did their job. They did a great job.”

The fire department decided to spray water over the western part of the Lamplighter Lounge, coating the building in what soon became a sheet of ice in the frigid temperatures, as every firefighter available in the city continued to fight the spread from the Chateau inferno.

“You do feel helpless in a situation like that, especially when you put so much work into it and it’s something you consider your own,” Schmidt said. “That was the hardest part about it, that we couldn’t that we felt that overall helplessness.”

As embers continued to smoke from the ruined site of the apartment complex, still billowing smoke and creating a campfire smell that remains faintly to this day, some employees of the Lamplighter returned to their bar about midday to see the damage.

“We had minor smoke damage,” Schmidt said about what they saw that day. “We did have to have a cleaning company come in and wipe down the walls, the floors, all of our bottles. It wasn’t a heavy soot but it was still deemed that we needed to get a sufficient cleaning. They did air treatments, as well. … It looked like maybe 10 or 15 people lit up a cigarette. It wasn’t significant. You could see a slight haze and you could smell that type of campfire smell.”

The majority of the damage came from outside, from the same protective measure used by the firefighters to make sure the much worse fire damage wouldn’t happen.

“It was a blessing at first with the ice from the fire department. They saved us by putting the ice shield on, but it turned out to be more of a cleanup than we anticipated. We needed to put a shelter up to melt the ice off the roof and from the side of the building and from the parking lot, as well,” he said. “It was more of a venture than we thought.”

Walking around to the outside western wall, Schmidt pointed toward a section of the dumpster about a foot and a half off the ground. That’s how high the sheet of ice left in the parking lot was. There were dents in the top of the air-conditioning units, which had been turned into “blocks of ice” during the fire, from the weight of the ice. All the units will have to be replaced.

“You’re really relieved that the fire did not catch your building but then you know all the stuff that goes into it. All the micromanaging of all the people that are necessary to get you back into business,” Schmidt said. “That was the overall feeling: mixed emotions throughout the process.”

The business was closed for just under two weeks, from Dec. 5 to the 21st. Schmidt said that the repairs and inspections needed went up to the wire for their reopening date and that the Schmidt family had considered possibly reopening following Christmas, but that all the hard work made it possible to open when they wanted to.

“It’s the busy time of the season and we wanted to be here for our customers and our profit-margin, as well. It’s our livelihood,” Schmidt said. “It was kind of a significant hit and an issue, but we’re resilient. We’ve gone through some disasters and we worked hard and got back at it.”

They had to almost completely demolish the building following the Souris River flood in 2011, when the water stood at 7 feet inside the building. They had just recently completed a total remodeling of the building when they were struck with the fire-related damage.

“The only thing that existed from that (the flood) would basically be the foundation, the cinderblock walls, and the roof. Everything else is brand new,” Schmidt said. “It’s still the same shell of a building. It’s just new inside.”

They reopened from the flood in March 2012. He had just returned from school at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks when he came back to help his family do the demolition and redesign the building to get what they had wanted out of it.

Although the Lamplighter Lounge first opened in 1971, the Schmidt family became involved in the business in 1974.

They celebrated their reopening that year with the first of their Oktoberfest-style celebrations, with plenty of beer, food and music as an outdoor event. They had the event again in 2013 and hope to continue the tradition again this year and into the future. But they’d like to have a different event first, though they’ll have to work out a date.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Minot Fire Department,” Schmidt said. “They did a great job and we plan on honoring them on a night here coming up in the future.”