Arrowhead Foods, the only Native-owned business in Whiteclay, Nebraska, burned to the ground Monday morning due to a defective chicken broaster.
Owner Martin Pilcher, Lakota, reported the fire around 9 a.m. after emptying four fire extinguishers in an attempt to drown the flames, according to the Rapid City Journal.
Terry Robbins, Sheridan County sheriff, received the call and immediately contacted Rushville Volunteer Fire Department, the Pine Ridge Fire Department, and two state fire marshals, South Dakota Public Radio reported.
Jerry Kearns, assistant chief of the Rushville Fire Department, said 12 volunteer firefighters came to the scene. Rushville is about 23 miles south of Whiteclay, a town of about 10 people, on the Nebraska-Pine Ridge border.
Kearns and his team arrived at 9:15 a.m. to see flames and smoke spilling out of the back door.
Whiteclay has no fire hydrants, so four tanker trucks were used to haul water from Pine Ridge. The Lincoln Journal Star estimates that 240,000 gallons were used.
At 11:30 a.m., the fire was determined to be too dangerous to continue fighting. Firefighters were able to contain the fire and save an adjacent liquor store, and declared the fire out at 3:30 p.m.
Robbins said firefighters left the scene around 4 p.m., but he remained until 10 p.m. to ensure that the fire was completely out. He said there were no injuries, but the store is a total loss.
Whiteclay is infamous for having four beer-only liquor stores that sell nearly 5 million cans of beer per year, mainly to residents of Pine Ridge. Despite an August 2013 vote lifted the 124-year ban on alcohol on the reservation, Whiteclay-related alcohol sales persist.
Previously VJs Grocery, which was looted and burned during alcohol sales protests in 1999, Pilcher and his wife Rhiannon bought the store in December 2015. Pilcher also owns a construction company and an insurance agency.
Pilcher told the Rapid City Journal the business was covered by insurance and he hopes to rebuild, but right now he is mainly concerned for his 11 employees and the surrounding community.
“They’re all devastated,” Pilcher said. “Some had worked at the store 13 or 14 years and that’s all they know. They can’t believe this really happened, and now they’re all out of a job.”
Tony Taylor, a loan officer with Lakota Funds, the financier of Arrowhead Foods, told South Dakota Public Radio that they are waiting to see what the insurance adjuster decides, but that “there may be a silver lining in the tragedy” if the store can be rebuilt.
Arrowhead Foods was one of only two grocery stores in Whiteclay. Whiteclay Grocery remains open.