A fire that started in the attic of the McDonald's Restaurant on Harrison Avenue Tuesday afternoon and destroyed the business appears to be accidental.
Jeff Miller, director of fire services, said the blaze doesn't appear suspicious, although investigators are still trying to determine the cause.
Heavy smoke and flames billowed from the roof and rear of the building as the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department used its ladder truck to spray water from above. Employees and customers safely evacuated the building; there were no injuries reported, Miller said.
The fire appears to have started in an attic near the rear of the one-story building, Miller said. It was reported about 4 p.m.
Because the building is "lightweight constructed," Miller said it was too dangerous for firefighters to cut a hole in the roof to get to the fire. He said the fire moved quickly through the open attic space.
"We went into a defensive mode and let the fire burn itself through," Miller said.
The roof eventually collapsed after the fire gutted the structure. Miller said the building, which underwent a large renovation several years ago, was a total loss.
Fire marshal John Lasky will go into the building Wednesday once the structure cools and begin investigating the cause.
A phone call to McDonald's owner Jeff Gorman seeking comment Tuesday afternoon wasn't returned by deadline.
Mike Evans, the manager of the Pizza Hut, located adjacent to McDonald's, said he first noticed thick smoke coming from the roof of the restaurant. He said employees at McDonald's tried to use a fire extinguisher to extinguish the flames that appeared to start in the ceiling, but had to flee the building when the fire spread.
Evans told The Montana Standard that NorthWestern Energy cut power to the block, also leaving Pizza Hut without power.
Large crowds of bystanders gathered to watch the blaze, and some used cell phones to take video and photos, many of which were quickly posted to their Facebook sites.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues into two early morning fires - one Uptown and the other on the Flat - that occurred April 20. Both are being ruled as suspicious. One blaze damaged a first floor, rear office in the Acoma, 60 E. Broadway St., and the other heavily damaged the Dairy Queen, 2227 Harrison Ave.
Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.