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Full Throttle Saloon Owner Says Power Cord Caused Fire

September 15, 2015, 10:16 PM by Kevin Woster

Full Throttle Saloon Owner Says Power Cord Caused Fire

Standing in the charred remains of the Full Throttle Saloon near Sturgis on Tuesday, owner Michael Ballard couldn't yet see past the loss to the future.

“I'm still digesting everything about rebuilding or what we're going to do or how we're going to move forward," Ballard said. "You know, this is just like losing a family member and trying to replace that family member a week from now. You can't even comprehend having to go down that road."

The place burned down last week, a loss estimated at $10 million.  Losing a saloon billed as the world's biggest biker bar, one featured in a reality TV show, was a lot to comprehend in a week.

Ballard was still trying to do just that today as he announced that an extensive investigation by local, state and especially federal officials concluded that an electrical cord behind a keg cooler was to blame for the fire.

"It was a simple power cord that heated up, caught a cardboard box on fire, and it done $10 million in damage to me," Ballard said.

Insurance won't help much. Ballard said coverage focused increasingly in recent years on the more than 200 nearby camper cabins saved by fire crews. They'll be open next year, providing cash flow. As for the saloon, that's an open question.

Ballard said it will be a while before he decides if he wants to try to rebuild.

"I know in my heart I cannot re-create this place," he said. "It’s impossible to re-create what was here. This place grew organically over 17 years and every year me putting back into it and building another building or building another bar area, or buying atmosphere, and bringing in stuff from all four corners of the United States."

Bikers came from all corners, too.

“People coming in here, hanging motorcycle helmets on the wall that belonged to one of their brothers that got killed,” Ballard said. “Military people hanging medals on the walls or their patches on the walls.”

It’s a loss that wasn’t limited to Ballard and his business operation. In downtown Sturgis, Knuckle Saloon owner Ken McNenny said Ballard's loss is a community loss.

"I think his business is a big contributor to our local community, and losing that part of our community is a really sad deal," McNenny said.

On a personal level, McNenny said he sympathizes with how Ballard must feel, especially because the fire too so many unique items with historical or sentimental value that can't be replaced.

“We feel bad when anything like this happens to another business within our community,” McKenny said. “We just really feel bad for Michael. And what happened, you wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Ballard's sadness is also being shared on a wider scale by thousands who loved the bar and stop there each year during the Sturgis rally. Others know it through its reality TV show.

"Hundreds of people have been married her on this property," Ballard said. "Hundreds of thousands of people have fulfilled a bucket list to come to the Full Throttle Saloon. Also, ashes have been spread of loved ones on this property for many, many years."

The old ashes now mingle with the new -- and with a loss that will take some time for Ballard to comprehend.

He said that while he has received offers of support in rebuilding and encouragement to begin, he will need some time to see when and if that will be right for him.

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