TWIN BRIDGES — A fire in Twin Bridges early Sunday gutted an R.L. Winston Rod Co. building containing bamboo fly fishing rods and knocked out the electricity in some homes for several hours.
Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson said the fire burned a utility pole near the building at 105 E Third Ave., and NorthWestern Energy crews were called to fix the pole and restore electricity.
The fire call came in at 3:30 a.m., the sheriff said, and the building was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived. Thompson said firefighters were mopping up at the scene around 8 a.m.
Twin Bridges Fire Chief Lloyd Carlson said 24 firefighters fought the blaze, including units from Dillon and Sheridan.
"I don't know how Dillon got there so quickly," he said. "They were there in half an hour."
Carlson said it looked like the fire was the result of an electrical issue in the rear of the building where a lot of the power equipment was located.
The damaged utility pole with multiple lines on it was near the back, or north, side of the building, which greatly complicated firefighting efforts, as did the building's position nestled very close to other structures.
Once power was shut off, Carlson said, the crews became concerned that they might run out of water without pumps to replenish the supply. "We were using about 2,000 gallons a minute," he said. "But it all worked out — we didn't run out."
After NorthWestern Energy crews responded, a new pole was installed, and wires were strung quickly, Carlson said, leaving power to the entire town off only from about 5:30 a.m. to about 7:30 a.m. It was initially feared that power would be knocked out for much longer.
Carlson said Dillon assistant chief B.J. Klose and his crew attacked the south side of the structure, and Carlson's team fought the north side.
"All the departments worked together real well," he said.
Garrett Banks, an employee at Four Rivers Fishing Company, a Twin Bridges fly shop, said that because the building was used for work on Winston's legendary bamboo rods, it was feared that some valuable rods were lost in addition to supplies and equipment.
Carlson said the building was a total loss, but the value of the contents was not immediately clear. "There was clearly quite a bit of bamboo in there," he said.
The newer R.L. Winston Rod Co. building is located at 500 South Main St. in Twin Bridges, several blocks away from the building that burned.
R.L. Winston is a revered name in fly-fishing circles, even though it is not actually a single individual's name. Robert Winther and Lew Stoner started what is known today as the R.L. Winston Rod Company in 1929 in San Francisco, combining their names into the new brand. The company's bamboo rods soon became famous for their design and workmanship.
In 1975, owner Tom Morgan and partner Glenn Brackett moved the business from California to Twin Bridges to take advantage of the world-class trout fisheries on the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Ruby, and Jefferson rivers, and the company has been a Twin Bridges fixture ever since.