One Dead, One Missing after Fire Destroys Butch’s Bar in Sturgeon Bay

The body of a person was found in the rubble of Butch’s Bar, leaving one other person unaccounted for after a fire destroyed the Third Avenue establishment.

“The integrity of the structure is compromised, making it very difficult at this time to search further,” said Sturgeon Bay Assistant Police Chief Dan Brinkman.

The department had not released as of Tuesday afternoon the identification of the deceased person or the other missing person. Both were renting rooms in the building that burst into flames early on the morning of Feb. 22. Of the 20, second-floor rental rooms, nine had been occupied. All but the two escaped the fire, and one who escaped was transported from the scene by ambulance.

Emergency units were dispatched at 3:40 am and when they arrived on scene the structure was already fully engulfed, said Aaron LeClair, director of Door County Emergency Services. Both the ceiling and second floor would collapse into the interior.

Photo by Mike Brisson.

The conditions were “challenging,” LeClair said, with gusting winds and frigid temperatures in the low teens. None of the emergency workers were injured. All nine of Door County’s mainland fire departments assisted with the fire. 

Inside her home at the other end of the short block, Cathy Grier awoke to the smell of smoke.

“So I got up and looked out and huge embers were flying in the air,” she said. “I saw the whole second floor was up in flames. All I could think is, ‘there’s people in there.’”

With firefighters already on the scene and fearing her own home was at risk, Grier grabbed her pets and drove across the street to the Healthy Way parking lot. She would help alert neighbors during the earliest moments of the fire.

“At 6 am really is when I thought, ‘OK, my house is engulfed in smoke but I’m not worried about my house anymore,” she said. “It was very scary to think at some point the embers were landing on my roof.” 

Photo by Mike Brisson.
Photo by Mike Brisson.

The Sturgeon Bay School District sent a bus for use as a warming station and there was food and coffee available for the firefighters. The American Red Cross is working to find shelter for those who were displaced by the fire, the United Way of Door County is assisting and local businesses opened their doors to emergency workers for warmth and shelter. 

“As Sturgeon Bay does typically, our community has stepped up,” Brinkman said.

Six hours after arriving at the scene, the fire trucks began to depart about 9:45 am. 

The cause and origination of the fire are unknown. The Department of Criminal Investigation is assisting with the investigation. 

Photo by D.A. Fitzgerald.

The owner of the bar purchased the building in 1972. 

Grier, a musician who moved to Door County from New York after visiting to play in the Steel Bridge Songfest, said Butch’s was the first bar she played in Door County.

“People told me, ‘there’s a bar at Butch’s; go and jam,’” Grier said. “Most people said it was a dive bar, but it wasn’t. It was super special. I loved its grit.”

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