Presumably a total loss from fire, smoke and water damage, Charlene's Restaurant and Bar was boarded up after burning last Friday evening.
December 9, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Gary Noland
For the Pathfinder
Charlene's Restaurant and Bar in Seeley Lake was destroyed by fire early Friday evening when a kitchen broiler flare-up got out of control.
The fire was turned in around 7:30 p.m. Friday just as Seeley Lake's Volunteer Fire Department crews sat down with their families at Lindey's Steakhouse for the annual Christmas party.
"We had about two bites of salad, and that was it," said Fire Chief Joe Ellinghouse who said he had firefighters on the scene within six or seven minutes.
According to Ellinghouse, the fire broke out in the kitchen when broiler grease ignited and spread up into in vent hood where it continued to burn grease accumulations.
Employees hit the blaze with two or three fire extinguishers, Ellinghouse said, but then called 911 when it proved too much.
Ellinghouse had the restaurant and bar vacated by customers as soon as he assessed the situation.
Heat from the blaze in the hood transferred into the ceiling where it ignited and took off.
"There were two or three different ceilings from previous remodelings and that was our biggest problem," Ellinghouse said. "The fire just kept jumping back and forth."
Even at that, firefighters contained most of the damage to the kitchen, restaurant and front entrance parts of the building. Though the bar side didn't burn like the dining area, smoke and water damage was extensive and Ellinghouse said the building is probably a total loss.
Firefighters brought the fire under control in about an hour, but were on the scene until 11:30 p.m., Ellinghouse said, adding that Mike Lindemer at Lindey's wrapped up the Christmas dinners and delivered them to the firefighters.
Ellinghouse had high praise for his people who worked "above and beyond the call of duty."
Owners Charlene Verworn and her husband, Duane, both longtime Seeley residents and active in previous businesses here, felt the same.
"The fire department was wonderful," Charlene said, adding in a voice cracking with emotion that they did everything they could to salvage some of her antiques and planters.
Charlene had left the restaurant earlier and was at home when one of the waitresses called her, said the place was burning and that 911 had been called. About the same time, Duane returned home from the grocery store, and the two rushed back to their business.
By Tuesday morning, Charlene was somewhat recovered from the shock of losing the building they had feverishly remodeled and opened in time for the Fourth of July weekend a year and a half ago.
She was grateful that "no one was hurt," and expressed concern for the welfare of their ten part-time and full-time employees.
"It's just a building," she added, saying she was trying to do what they can for the employees.
The fire carried a double-edged sword for the Verworns who had a sale pending on the business and that sale was to have been finalized the first of this week. That now has been put on hold indefinitely.
Tuesday Charlene and Duane were meeting with the insurance adjuster, and she said they really hadn't made a decision on whether or not to rebuild. "We'll have to look at all the costs," she said.
The Verworns have been supported by many friends, including customers and other business owners who have called.
"I can't tell you how many people have called and cried with me," she said, "or how much we appreciate them. Thank you, thank you, thank you."