Fire

Firefighters respond to a kitchen fire at the Center Ice Cafe inside the historic Mercantile Building on Sunday. A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist cafe owner Rhonda Gilbert with expenses not covered by insurance.

Belgrade’s Center Ice Cafe suffered a kitchen fire Sunday just before noon, and the restaurant will be closed for a few months until it can be repaired, the owner told the Belgrade News.

Rhonda Gilbert said that she noticed her fryer was smoking, turned it off, popped its electrical breaker, but it was so hot it continued to smoke.

“This is just my observation,” she said. “The fire department hasn’t finished their reports yet.”

She added that the cafe stopped seating new customers when the fire broke out because employees had stopped seating people once the fryer started overheating. Twenty minute later, “flames were crawling up the kitchen wall” and Gilbert told her staff to get out of there.

Gilbert stayed and fought the flames for the few minutes it took the fire department to show up to the historic Mercantile building on the corner of West Main and Broadway.

She has insurance to repair and rebuild and “absolutely” plan to reopen.

Central Fire Valley Fire Marshal Bruce Hennequin said the investigation into the exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined, though he confirmed it started in the café’s kitchen.

“The hood suppression system did discharge at one point, as did a sprinkler head in the building’s fire suppression system above the mezzanine level,” Hennequin said. Central Valley firefighters used “minimal water” to ensure that the blaze was fully extinguished.

Hennequin said the rest of the building had some smoke damage, which firefighters did their best to remove. There also is some damage where water from the sprinkler head went down into the basement, he added.

Gilbert, long a mainstay in the local catering and restaurant scene, has been at the Center Ice Cafe for a little more than five years.

This fire is the family’s second tragedy in five months; her husband Brant Gilbert died in April.

“It seems we can’t get a break,” she said. “All of that heartache and struggle. This just makes it worse.”

Gilbert suffered smoke inhalation but said she should be OK.

“I stayed inside and did all I could. I kept fighting the fire until the fire department got here,” Gilbert said.

Hennequin thanked the Belgrade police and Bozeman and Hyalite fire departments for assisting at the scene. He also expressed gratitude for modern fire suppression technology.

“Fire sprinklers do what they’re supposed to do,” Hennequin said. “Had that one head not been installed in that area, it could have been much different.”

Gilbert’s insurance will cover rebuilding the cafe, but not the salaries and living expenses for her and her staff. Friends immediately set up a GoFundMe page for the cafe: https://gofund.me/a4c2bbde