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Less than a month after Mark Hartwig thought his Pine Creek Cafe was consumed in a fast-moving wildland fire, the facility will feature live music and barbecue to celebrate its survival.

Hartwig said he thought the old eatery along Highway 540, nine miles south of Livingston, was gone when he saw a wall of flame sweep through the small burg. He was helping neighbors attempting to douse the blaze when it took off on Aug. 29.

“I watched the flames go by and could’ve sworn it was gone,” he said.

The fire stopped right at the structures that include an espresso stand, the cafe and several rental cabins. A switch in the wind direction kept most of the structures from burning. Only one cabin was burned completely and the roof of the espresso stand was partially cooked. But the main building that holds the café was unscathed.

It wasn’t until later that first night that an EMT drove past the café and snapped a photo that Hartwig found out the business he had purchased in March was still standing. He couldn’t reopen right away though, as the road was initially closed to all traffic. And even though the facility didn’t burn, there was still work to be done, including repairing the damage to the espresso stand.

“There was sufficient smoke damage suffered to require us to replace our inventory,” Hartwig said of the café.

This weekend, music has been scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights outside, along with a barbecue beginning at 5:30 p.m., and on Sunday the dining room will reopen with a Sunday buffet running from about 8 a.m. to after noon. By Wednesday, the dining room will reopen for its usual hours.

“It’s a weird, magical, oasis place,” said Joanne Gardner, who books music for the venue.

When she thought the Pine Creek Cafe had burned, she turned to the company’s Facebook page and found people from across the country sharing their memories of the old building.

“The place has just touched people,” she said. “The idea that the place was gone was really difficult for people.”

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The Pine Creek fire, the cause of which is still under investigation, burned 8,500 acres, destroyed five homes and several outbuildings and continues to burn in timber east of the café. Smoke still shrouds the Paradise Valley, some coming from the Millie fire burning in the mountains just south of Bozeman.

“This thing was tough for everybody,” Hartwig said, including some of his 19 employees who had to seek other employment because the facility wasn’t open for almost a month.

Even now, with the fire gone but the surrounding terrain blackened and ash covered, Hartwig said the area maintains an eerie feeling. That's something he’s hoping to counteract with music, food and a gathering of friends.

“The interest has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “It would be ridiculous to call it a family, but it is a community center. There are a lot of people who visit in the summer, but the locals keep it open in the winter.”

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.