ATF Investigates Full Throttle Fire

Federal authorities began investigating Thursday the cause of a fire that destroyed a popular South Dakota biker bar, but they cautioned their presence didn’t necessarily indicate any criminal wrongdoing.

A team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives started investigating the scene at the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, the loss of which is estimated at $10 million.

Photo: Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department

At least two dozen agents are on the scene at the request of the state fire marshal’s office.

Special Agent Robert Schmidt told The Associated Press their teams are often called to large incidents to give extra support to state and local investigators on scene.

“Oftentimes when the ATF gets called in, people think there’s something suspicious. We’re just another resource for the state and local teams,” he said.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Tony Mangan said the Fire Marshal’s office decided to request the help of ATF due to the size of the fire. He said without federal help, it could take weeks to comb through all of the debris.

The bar, which featured such amenities as zip lines, musical stages and rental cabins, had been the subject of the truTV series “Full Throttle Saloon,” which aired for several seasons starting in 2009.

Some 45 firefighters fought the blaze, and their efforts were complicated by the lack of fire hydrants or a ready water supply at the site. Water had to be trucked in and held in holding tanks.

Saloon owner Michael Ballard said in a statement on the bar’s Facebook page that walking the grounds after the fire is “simply devastating.”

The ATF is the federal agency with jurisdiction over fires and arson.