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Explosions destroy Thomasville tavern

Tim Mutrie

One of Thomasville’s best-known landmarks, the Sonnydale Tavern, was leveled early yesterday morning by two explosions.

The resulting fire left some 15 people without a home, though no one was seriously injured in the blaze.

“When the explosion occurred, it woke people up,” said Basalt Fire Chief Steve Howard. Many of the residents had trouble opening their doors because the explosion knocked the structure off its foundation, he said.

One male resident of Sonnydale, which had recently been turned into an apartment building, sustained minor burns on his feet, according to Deputy Bruce Benjamin of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. A firefighter also sustained minor injuries, he said. Some house cats were killed in the blaze.

“One firefighter told me it was the largest fire he had seen in his nine years on the Basalt Fire Department,” Benjamin said.

Firefighters deemed the Sonnydale structure “a complete loss” yesterday. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Monday, Benjamin said.

Investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Basalt Fire Department were at the scene of the blaze Monday – which is about 24 miles east of Basalt, above Ruedi Reservoir.

Howard said investigators finally were able to enter the building late in the afternoon, after hot spots were extinguished. The area where the fire originated had been discovered, but the exact cause of the blasts had not been determined, he said.

The company that supplied propane gas to the building was bringing in its expert to investigate the explosion, according to Howard.

Seven-year Thomasville resident Robby Peters, who supplied the Times with photographs of the blaze, said many of the town’s citizens watched the Sonnydale burn to the ground before breakfast.

“It was totally [in flames] by about 5 or 5:30 or so,” he said. “I took the pictures about 6 a.m., but at that point it was pretty much burned down the first floor.”

“The Sonnydale is kind of a landmark up here,” he added.

The Sonnydale was the only retail business in Thomasville, though its presence in the community waned during the last year and a half, after the establishment lost its license to sell beer and liquor.

“When they lost their liquor license, they no longer ran the cafe, they just rented the rooms to locals,” Peters said.

Benjamin said the Sonnydale had eight units that were rented out as apartments.

Authorities first learned of the fire at 4:10 a.m. Monday, according to Benjamin. Volunteers with the Basalt Fire Department who live in Thomasville were the first to respond.

“Arriving units learned from residents of the structure that there were two separate explosions related to the propane tank or lines,” said Benjamin. The gas was apparently used to heat the building.

“In addition, there was a subsequent structure fire that engulfed the entire building.”

The American Red Cross arrived at the scene early Monday, Benjamin said, and set up a temporary shelter at the Thomasville Fire Station.

“Some residents handled their own relocation and others were assisted by the Red Cross, at least temporarily,” Benjamin said.

An unspecified number of volunteer firefighters from Basalt responded to the fire. Volunteer firefighters from Aspen and Carbondale also assisted.

The Sonnydale Tavern had been in operation for “years and years and years,” according to longtime area resident Dave LaMont. By most estimates, the Sonnydale has been around for “at least 20 years.”

Brothers Dale and Arnold Sorenson bought the Sonnydale in 1988 and operated it for many years. Both Sorensons were reportedly at the fire scene Monday, and could not be reached for comment.

“Everybody up here feels very sorry for the owners,” LaMont said. “And as I understand it, all the rooms were rented, so there’s several people without homes this evening. There’s definitely a feeling of loss in the community.”

– Staff writer Scott Condon contributed to this report.


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