VERMILLION — As news of Monday night’s fire at the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis spread, people across the state, nation and the world reacted, however its impact hit very close to home. The wine bar at the Full Throttle Saloon is owned by Eldon and Sherry Nygaard of Vermillion.
In a phone interview Tuesday with the Vermillion Plain Talk, Eldon Nygaard said the wine bar, like much of the rest of the compound, is a total loss.
“All that is left standing are the six poles that look like burnt matchsticks,” Nygaard said. “It is believed the fire started in the main bar. Because the main bar housed such a large amount of distilled spirits — the Full Throttle has a distillery license — and a huge amount of alcohol, as well as the natural gas tanks used for heating and cooking, the fire was very intense and had a huge amount of heat.”
The saloon was often billed as the “world’s largest biker bar.”
Nygaard said compounding the fire was the shear amount of fuel available to burn.
“The boardwalk was all dry, old wood,” he said. “All combined, the fire was so hot that the fire melted the steal I-beams and they all curved down. The bridges, which Mike (Ballard, owner of Full Throttle Saloon) had salvaged, didn’t have any chance of being saved. The only structures that are undamaged are the office building, which wasn’t connected and was a metal building, and a few of the cabins that had been built to be rented out.”
While the fire was first reported near midnight, Nygaard said that it could have been smoldering for a while until it hit the fuel it needed to grow.
“Because the bar closed at 8 p.m. (Monday) night, we are not sure how long it had been burning,” Nygaard said. “But the ATF, County Sheriff and all of the fire departments are working to figure out how it started and when.”
According to The Associated Press, the adjoining distillery contained 500 gallons of grain alcohol, which may have stoked the blaze.
Shawn Barrows, Sturgis’ assistant fire chief, said firefighters attempted to get inside the bar but heavy heat and smoke forced them to battle the blaze from the outside in heavy winds, the AP reported.
“We tried making access through the west side walk-in doors, but they were locked,” Barrows told the Rapid City Journal. “We came around to the front-side garage doors on the north side of the building and cut a hole in it to make entry to the building.”
Nygaard said he has not had a chance to talk to Ballard as he was returning to South Dakota from the Full Throttle S’loonshine Distillery in Trimble, Tennessee, where the pair had been Saturday and Sunday.
The relationship between Nygaard and Full Throttle began several years ago, after Nygaard’s Valiant Vineyards, located in Vermillion, was selected to produce the official “Sturgis” wine for the annual Motorcycle Rally held each August. Seven years ago, the partnership with Full Throttle was created when Ballard approached Nygaard about opening a wine bar on the premises of the Full Throttle Saloon.
The partnership was furthered when Nygaard created the “Full Throttle” Cabernet, a more potent wine with a higher alcohol content due to the fortifying of South Dakota Grape Brandy with the Cabernet. The wine won a gold medal from the Tasters Guild of America.
Nygaard said that he was working on a distribution agreement with Ballard’s Full Throttle marketing arm, as well.
Nygaard said that filming for the “Full Throttle Saloon” reality television show was completed during the Sturgis Bike Rally and scheduled to air in October and November, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the show’s producers didn’t return to film about the fire.
“I am not sure what Mike will do,” he said. “At this point I know the wine bar is a total loss, but if Mike wants to rebuild, we will rebuild. No one was hurt, which is the most important thing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.