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VIDEO: Amid the loss, Bison Turf owner promises to rebuild after fire

FARGO - Firefighters are responding to a report of a blaze at the Bison Turf bar at 1211 N. University Drive near North Dakota State University, according to emergency dispatch records.The report came in at 2:17 p.m. Friday, July 22.Check back fo...

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Fire heavily damaged the landmark northside Bison Turf bar and restaurant Friday, July 22, but the owner said he would not hesitate to rebuild.

Waves of firefighters in 90-degree outside temps fought the stubborn blaze at 1211 N. University Drive just east of the North Dakota State University campus.

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Flames and black smoke were leaping above the building when responders arrived after receiving the call about 2:18 p.m., said Fargo Fire Marshal Ryan Erickson.
Firefighters started pouring water on the roof using a truck-mounted water cannon to knock down flames that leaped at least 20 feet above the roof line. Then a ladder truck hoisted a firefighter high above the restaurant to also shoot water directly into the building.

Because of the intense heat, a second alarm was called to bring in more fire crews and equipment so they could be rotated, Erickson said.

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After an hour of fighting the fire, red-faced firefighters exited the building and peeled off oxygen bottles and masks and heavy fire-retardant coats, guzzling bottles of water and draping their heads with water-soaked towels.

Erickson said no one who was in the Bison Turf was injured in the fire.

Next door to the Bison Turf is the Loaf ’N Jug convenience store and gas station, where people stood in the lot entranced by the flames and rolling clouds of smoke rising above the neighborhood.

Erickson said fire crews were making sure they watched all potential exposures for explosion. He said there appeared to be no danger to nearby homes.

In the meantime, Bison Turf owner Pete Sabo looked on.

"I think it started in my exhaust fan," he said.

Sabo said the blaze moved quickly. "I saw the fan smoke and in a minute there were flames coming out."

Sabo, who has owned the Bison Turf since 1988, said the wait for firefighters was hard.

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"Not quick enough. Not when your business is on fire. Even a minute seems like a long time," Sabo said.

About 20 minutes after arriving, firefighters began pulling down panels off the eaves of the bar and restaurant. As they worked on extinguishing the flames, thick gray and yellow-brown smoke blew through the parking lot and toward traffic on North University Drive.
When firefighters first arrived on the scene, they tried to attack the fire by going through the front of the bar and restaurant, but quickly realized that they would first have to fight the fire from outside the building.

It was a back-and-forth pattern that continued for more than 90 minutes, as firefighters tried to knock down the flames, only to have them start shooting through the roof again.

Firefighters eventually began opening up the roof, fighting the fire in the various open spaces or voids between the bar and restaurant’s interior ceilings and the roof.

“It probably will be ongoing like that,” Erickson said of the methodical work to knock down the hotspots.

Andrew Owens, 25, was scheduled to work at the bar a few hours after the fire started.

“I didn’t expect to wake up and see work on fire,” he said. The Mankato, Minn., native who lived just a block away said he had worked there as a cook for around six and a half months.

“The place was a second home to me,” he said.

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One NDSU student dropped to his knees, then lay facedown on the ground.

Dylan Burger, 22, of New Ulm, Minn., said he was only half joking with the display. The other half was actual despair. He visited the Turf “all the time,” he said.

“It’s always good to come here for kegs and eggs,” Burger said. “It’s going to suck to have to find somewhere else to do that.”

The bar was the subject of controversy when, in 2002, an NDSU student nearly drank himself to death in a “power hour,” when new 21-year-olds try to drink as much as possible between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. on their birthdays.

A bill signed by then-Gov. John Hoeven in 2005 changed state law so people are not 21 for the purposes of alcohol consumption until 8 a.m. on the day of their birthdays. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a similar law the same year.

Finance junior Taylor Koch was walking to the Turf Friday for lunch.

“It was one of the closer places to eat,” he said.

Ron Saeger was walking his dog nearby when he saw the fire.

“This was the place to go,” he said.

Erickson said it is too early to assess the extent of damage to the building.

Meanwhile, drivers heading south on North University Drive snapped pictures and took video of the fire with their smartphones whenever they were forced to stop for the stoplight just 100 feet from the Turf.

On the west side of the street, scores of people left their offices, classrooms and dorms to stand in small groups and watch firefighters work to beat back the stubborn fire, which flared anew every 10 or 15 minutes.

Despite the heavy damage to the building, particularly the western half, Sabo said he’s not ready to give up on the Bison Turf.

“Absolutely. I’ll rebuild,” he said.


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