I’ve heard enough speculation about the second fire at Breitbach’s Country Diner that my head could explode. Let’s think about this critically:

Fact #1: An explosion in the kitchen started the restaurant burning last time, although what caused the explosion wasn’t really determined. Fact #2: This was a new building. Fact #3: Balltown does not have a community water supply — people have to have a well to get water. Fact #4: You cannot maintain an affordable fire sprinkler system with a drinking water well.

Ok. So last time was probably an accident. Breitbach’s employees said it would have been nice to install a fire sprinkler system this time, but they couldn’t do it without the right water supply or a very expensive system. That isn’t negligence. And no investigators have said on the record yet whether the fire looked like arson. State fire investigator Mark Sand said there was no way to tell immediately what caused the blaze — that may take months.

I met Mike and Cindy Breitbach for the first time when I went to cover the second fire at their restaurant in Balltown. They are quite possibly the nicest people I’ve ever met. They didn’t know me, but they and two of their sons took time to talk to me the same day they lost a lot of their family heritage. And Cindy even ordered me to eat a piece of Breitbach’s blueberry pie before I left (the most excellent pie I’ve ever had, mind you).

I watched them talk to people who came from as far away as Davenport to offer their condolences and invite them into the Wine Shack next door to the smoldering heap of their restaurant, where everyone ate and talked together. There was a positive energy emanating from that overwhelming sadness. So let’s wait for some official word before we dampen that spirit with our judgement. It’s rare to find the kind of community strength and purpose that I saw in Balltown that day.

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