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02-28-03: Fire destroys restaurant
The Daily Standard
    BRYANT, Ind. - Six volunteer fire departments could not save the Heritage Restaurant at Bear Creek Farms on Thursday morning as the 4-year-old dining/gift shop building was leveled by fire.
    Don Strong of Bluffton, Ind., owner of the complex as well as the other 14 Richard Restaurants in Indiana, was working in the restaurant when a utility torch ignited a gas source.
    "We were working on a piece of equipment that required gas. A gas leak must have been created and it met with an open flame and ignited. It took us about five minutes to get the main (gas) valve off.
    "Fortunately no one was hurt. But, as you can see, the building is a total loss," Strong said at noon Thursday as he stood near the still burning rubble of his restaurant and gift shop.
    He estimated the fire began around 8:30 a.m. and the building was completely engulfed in flame when firefighters arrived about 90 minutes later.
    "It seemed like an eternity before they got here. But, that's one of the drawbacks in rural living. The fire departments did their best, but they're all volunteer. The call this morning probably got some of them out of bed," he said, adding there was no sprinkler system as there is no on-site water supply to support it.
    Opening day for this season was set for next Thursday. The owner said he'll serve customers in the old restaurant until a new facility is built. He didn't know when he'll be ready to open.
    All other facilities such as the theater, lodgings, indoor water park, shops and amusements were unhurt by the fire.
    Carla Green, general manager of the complex and Strong's daughter, said she was in the building and heard the explosion that started the fire.
    "Professional Food Service (employees) were working on the steam table, which is attached to the gas line. It's a blessing no one was hurt," Green said.
    Bear Creek Farms, which celebrated it's 25th anniversary in 2000, employs 150 people and 75 in the restaurant during the peak season.
    The restaurant seats 600 and Green said they serve as many as 2,600 people per weekend.
    Strong, who has been in the restaurant business since he was 16 years old, is philosophic about his loss.
    "Life goes on. We'll rebuild. One good thing is that the most expensive of the antique musical equipment I had in the restaurant is in Vermont being repaired," he said.


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