In the dead of night last Sunday, Belgrade’s newest business burned to the ground just weeks before its official opening.
And it was arson.
On Wednesday, the Belgrade News talked to Central Valley Fire District Fire Marshal Ron Hennequin, who confirmed that the fire was deliberately set. The supposed arsonist was caught on local security cameras going onto the construction site.
“A pile of boxes, the only combustible thing in the building, was set on fire,” Hennequin said.
Belgrade police are now attempting to chase down the arsonist, he said.
On May 16, the soon-to-open Rocky Mountain Car Wash at 6399 Jackrabbit Lane was reported on fire at 3:30 a.m. By 3:36 firefighters were dispatched, and by 4:26 a.m. the fire was under control.
“It was well-involved by the time we got there,” Hennequin said.
“We don’t think we’re looking at a serial arsonist,” he added. “This is looking as ‘opportunity’ rather than targeted. Hopefully a ‘one and done.’ Just a random act.”
Hennequin said he talked to the business’ contractor in Butte, who said the building will have to be taken “all the way back to the foundation. If they can save the foundation.”
Construction has been on track, said Tarra Piece, director of sales and marketing.
“The dirt work was still in progress. We still had to install equipment; still do asphalt. Still get the signs on the building,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will take but we absolutely have plans to rebuild in the same spot.”
The car wash opening had been scheduled for late June.
This location is the newest in a string of car washes owned by the Wyoming Irwin family, which relocated to Montana a few years ago and opened its first Montana location in Butte in 2020, according to the owners’ daughter and Operations Manager Taylor Webb.
“We’re devastated. It’s frustrating, actually,” said Webb. “We’re sick over it. We’re lucky no one died. That’s the blessing here.”
Before the fire marshal’s official assessment, the family had been asked to not comment. but “I can say we know what happened,” Webb added. “We knew the day of the fire.
Right now we’re looking for the silver lining, trying to pick up the pieces.”
Webb said the early estimate is that the business will take six to eight months to rebuild once the site is cleared off. That’s after this family spent almost three years getting to the initial construction phase.
“Construction is the end of the project,” she explained. “We’ve already lost two and a half years. “Weeks of research, getting the land. Water and sewer. Zoning.
“We’re sick over it. Devastated.
“People keep asking me what they can do to help. The best form of support you can give us is to give us your business when we open up.”
This company was started in Pinedale, Wyo., in 2001 and has expanded to eight Wyoming locations and now almost-two Montana locations.
The family has relocated corporate headquarters to Belgrade, Webb said.
“We’re bringing something totally new to the market,” she said.
The advanced car wash technologies planned for the facility include two different wash options from which to choose. The facility also will feature three oversized self-service bays that can accommodate vehicles up to 14 feet in height.