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Community feels pain of loss
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BLANCHARDVILLE - When one person dies in a fire it's a tragedy, but when four people die it might be devastating for a small community.

Daniel Hardekopf, 45; Jelayne L. Hughes, 44; Cody D. Olson, 23; and Brian K. Monte, 34, all of Blanchardville, died as a result of Monday's early morning fire, which destroyed the Silver Dollar Saloon, a century-old, three-story hotel building at 301 South Main Street. The fire is Lafayette County's worst fire-related tragedy in 20 years.

"There is a lot of hurting going on right now," said Rev. Mark Gruner of Pecatonica Lutheran Parish, Blanchardville. "In a small town, everybody knows everybody. We're all in this together."

Hardekopf and Hughes owned the Silver Dollar Saloon. Lafayette County Chief Deputy John Reichling said Monte was an employee at the business. A report from Virginia Douglas, Lafayette County coroner, indicated all four died of smoke inhalation/carbon monoxide poisoning.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined, according to a press release issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice Tuesday afternoon.

According to the state fire marshal's office, the fire began in an empty area between the second and third stories in the building's center.

There was no evidence that the fire was set and investigators didn't find any evidence of anything suspicious, the Department of Justice statement said.

Knowing how and where the fire started will answer some questions for families and friends of the victims, but it won't make their loss easier to bear.

Gruner said there's a sadness "in the air" that can be felt by everyone in the community of about 800 people.

"We all share the same pain."

Gruner said friends and families can take solace in the story of Christmas. He said the Christmas season offers hope.

"The Christ event is God saying 'I'm with you in joy and pain. I'm with you in the middle of it all. My love is as deep as your sorrow,'" he said.

Many of the firefighters knew the victims, Gruner said. He praised the volunteer department for its professionalism in the way it handled the fire and the tragedy.

Roy Ruegsegger, owner of the B-Ville Mini Mall, knew all of the victims. For a few years, his family lived next to Olson's family.

"I watched him grow up," Ruegsegger said of Olson. "He was a fun-loving who was always willing to help someone. He was the type of boy you wanted to live next to you."

Olson was a 2005 Pecatonica High School graduate. He was a baseball player on the high school team and was also selected to play on the United States National baseball team in Puerto Rico. He was employed at InfinIT in Waunakee. His funeral is at 11 a.m. Monday, at the Blanchardville Lutheran Church.

Monte was a 1993 Stoughton High School graduate. He enjoyed fishing and made his own fishing lures. He is survived by three children. Monte's funeral is at 11 a.m. Monday, at St. John's United Church of Christ, Monroe.

Hughes grew up in the Barneveld area and graduated from Barneveld High School in 1983. She loved canoeing, riding horses and collecting dolls. She is survived by four children. Her funeral is at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Barneveld Lutheran church.

Hardekopf was a member of the Argyle Rod and Gun Club and enjoyed hunting. He is survived by four children. His funeral is at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Turner-Eighner Funeral Home in Somonauk, Ill.

A Facebook page has been established for the four victims of the fire.

The fire left the historic downtown Blanchardville building, a total loss. The fire also closed down Wisconsin 78 Monday, forcing Pecatonica schools to delay opening school by two hours.

The Blanchardville Fire Department was dispatched at 3:23 a.m. Monday after Blanchardville Police Officer Walt Fischer saw flames coming from Silver Dollar Saloon, located at the corner of South Main Street and Elm Street.

Blanchardville, Argyle, New Glarus, Hollandale and Monroe fire departments responded to the scene. Argyle, Hollandale and Green County emergency medical services also assisted at the scene.

Wis. 78 remained closed Tuesday, Reichling said. He wasn't sure when the highway would be open.