The historic Mercantile Building, located near the famous Bottle House in Rhyolite, burned to the ground Saturday afternoon after being struck by lightning.
Caretaker Karl Olson said his travel trailer, located behind the Bottle House, shook from the concussion of the thunder when the bolt struck the nearby building. He was on the phone at the time, and soon saw smoke through his window.
Olson reported the blaze, then attempted to fight it with the only thing he had — a hand-held fire extinguisher, but his efforts had little if any effect.
The Beatty Volunteer Fire Department’s response was delayed because they had just responded to a report of a utility pole on fire approximately 18 miles north of Beatty.
“By the time we got there, the rain had put that fire out,” said Fire Chief Mike Harmon, but it made them have to travel over 22 miles to respond the fire at Rhyolite.
When the firemen arrived, they found the building totally engulfed in flame, and there was nothing they could do to save it. Since there is no surviving water system in Rhyolite, including no fire hydrants, they were limited to what water and retardant they could carry in their trucks. After a few minutes they concentrated their efforts on the back of the building where a vintage truck body was parked.
The building had quite a history. It is believed to have been built in 1906, when Rhyolite was only a year old. No one knows exactly where it was originally located in Rhyolite.
When Rhyolite folded, it is said that the building was moved to another mining camp called Transvaal, and then to another called Pioneer. Eventually it was moved to Beatty, where it remained for years, located next to the Episcopal Church (not the VFW post).
Evan Thompson, who operated a gift shop in the Bottle House, purchased the building and moved it back to Rhyolite in about 1972, and his family lived in it for a number of years. He moved his family in 1989 when the Barrick Bullfrog Mine was beginning operation because he figured they would not get any sleep “with all the blasting and the haul trucks going back and forth.”
The building went through the hands of one or two other private owners before falling into the hands of the Bureau of Land Management. It was the largest surviving wooden structure in the ghost town.