By Sally Ousley
Two state Department of Ecology officials were seen observing land along Big Alkalai Creek Monday.
Jan Moore who lives in Hay noticed an unfamiliar vehicle pass by and then recognized the two men inside. They were Mike Kuttel and Chad Atkins from the Spokane DOE office.
The two DOE staffers had attended two DOE meetings hosted by the Whitman Conservation District in Colfax earlier this year which followed objections to DOE inspections and letters on potential livestock pollution last August.
According to DOE Spokane Communications Manager Brook Beeler, the two officials Monday were doing watershed evaluations, taking photos and field notes on properties they had evaluated before. She also said they were observing clear impacts on streams and rivers. No new properties were included in their observations, she said.
After checking with other DOE staff, Beeler said Kuttel and Atkins will do other follow-ups that are deemed necessary.
Livestock producers and farmers packed the auditorium in the Public Service Building twice earlier this year when DOE officials were invited to talk about letters sent about the “potential to pollute” along county creeks and streams.
Landowners who received letters were upset about the timing, with letters received during harvest, and the wording in the letters which indicated that through state law, $10,000 fines could be issued.
DOE officials said the agency addresses signs of ongoing pollution sources with continued emphasis on working with conservation districts.
Whitman Conservation District officials disagreed with DOE, saying they were not contacted about the letters.
DOE officials said there were 270 sites, 111 in Whitman County with 56 in the Whitman Conservation District.
By Garth Meyer
Following the fire last week that destroyed an 1889 building in Palouse – on the night before the grand opening of a bar and restaurant on the ground floor – the cause remains to be determined.
A Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) from the Spokane Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms visited the site April 8 to assist the Palouse Fire Department.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” said Paul Canup, Resident Agent in Charge, ATF Spokane Field Office. “We have one agent assisting in the area of cause and origin of the fire.”
The expected time frame for a conclusion is hard to say, indicated Brian Bennett, Public Information Officer, ATF Seattle Field Division.
“He (CFI) hasn’t made a determination. Sometimes it can take weeks, months, a year,” he said. “There is no usual. There’s too many variables.”
The fire falls under the jurisdiction of the ATF because it affects interstate commerce.
“You could have a 7-Eleven that sells Cheetos that were made in Missouri and you’d have interstate commerce,” Bennett said.
Overall, Palouse Fire Chief Mike Bagott estimates that something electrical caused the fire.
“That still seems the most likely culprit,” he said. “Nothing else fits on the face of things. I would be surprised if they make any determination beyond accidental.”
He said that a fault in an electrical wire can sit undetermined for years. The insulation on wire has to break down on it where it can short, which is when electricity takes a path outside its intended route.
“It could be a spark or an arc is a better way to describe it,” Bagott said. “It arcs over to a nail and the subsequent heat from the nail ultimately starts the fire.”
Overall, he said the opportunity to deliberately set this fire would have been limited.
“If somebody did this intentionally, they went an awfully long way to cover their tracks,” Bagott said.
He explained this, suggesting that if the fire was set, someone would have had to have a key to get into the padlocked door to a stairwell — since the second floor back room was apparently inaccessible from the ground floor.
The second floor rear of the building is where smoke was first seen.
As far as new electrical wiring for the remodeling of the bar and restaurant area, owner Adam Barron, a contractor, did it himself along with some volunteer help.
According to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, electrical inspections on the new work was incomplete.
“I was in such a hurry to get open I did not call for the final inspection,” Barron said.
“Just the final electrical inspection was the last one to be done.”
He said he performed no electrical work on the second floor.
“Nothing that I did had anything to do with the upstairs. Not anything had been touched,” he said.
Attempts to stop the fire
The 911 call came at 3:50 a.m. from Dan Garceau, a Palouse resident driving home from a night shift across the stateline.
Coming west up Main Street from Highway 272, past the Community Center and McLeod’s Market, Garceau noticed a haze at the back of the building that housed the new restaurant and bar.
Seeing thick, gray smoke pushing out horizontally in a lazy haze by the back of the building, he turned in to look to be sure it wasn’t fog. What he saw, Chief Bagott said, was smoke oozing out of cracks in the bricks and around windows.
“There wasn’t any indication of any fire, really any smoke coming out of the lower portion,” he said of when the fire department arrived on scene.
The first firefighter there, Marc VanHarn, a 12-year veteran who lives just down the block, ran up the sidewalk, turned the corner and saw the smoke coming from the back of the building.
“It was at that point that I just assumed I was gonna be homeless,” VanHarn said. “In discussion with the (fire) department of any downtown fire we assumed we’d lose the whole block.”
He ran back to get in his car to drive to the fire station up the hill. “The second I turned into firefighter mode, I didn’t think about my house.”
As a siren sounded over the town summoning other volunteer firefighters and waking up residents, back at VanHarn’s apartment – above his Vintage Velocity Hot Rods business – his wife and a couple staying with them hurried to move motorcycles and cars out of the shop.
At the scene of the smoke, a stairwell leading to the building’s second floor had a padlocked door on the east side toward Heritage Park. This is where, soon after Bagott and his crew got there, firefighters Scott Beeson and Wil Edwards entered the building with a hose to go up to see if the fire could be fought from the inside.
At the top of the stairs, they turned left toward the back of the building and quickly hit smoke and heat.
Then they acted on their training.
“You open up a short burst and if the water turns to steam, it gives you an indication you’ve got extremely high heat at the ceiling,” Bagott said.
Water converts to steam at a ratio of one cubic foot of water to 1,700 cubic feet of steam.
“They did have water return on them but also had the heat come down on them from the steam conversion,” Bagott said.
Once Beeson and Edwards were turned away, the chief’s initial instinct about the fire held.
“I had a pretty bad feeling about it before we even got there,” he said, referring to the fact it was an old building and the inevitable longer response time from outlying departments since it was the middle of the night.
He suspects the fire was burning for some time before Garceau saw the smoke.
“It could’ve been going for a half hour, 45 minutes. That’s all conjecture and guess,” Bagott said.
After the stairwell attempt, other firefighters took a 250-300 gallon per-minute hose and set up a ladder at the back of the building. They climbed to a second floor window in the old meeting hall above the former post office, broke the glass and sprayed at smoke inside.
In roughly 10 minutes, they saw the first flames coming from the roof above.
“The focus had to shift to saving everything else on the block,” Bagott said.
The flames spread quickly from the back of the roof across it.
“Once it was through the roof it was pretty obvious that there was not gonna be any chance to save the building,” the chief said.
This was because, since firefighters couldn’t get access to shoot water on the source of the fire – byway of the stairway or through the window on the second floor in back – all they were doing was spraying water on the extending flames.
“It’s attacking the symptoms as opposed to the cause,” Bagott said.
In turn, firemen and women then took hoses and got into position on Main Street in pairs, shooting water from five lines, up onto the roofs of the rest of the block.
As the fire burned and heat spread, contained in the original building, the mortar and internal structure that kept its brick walls in place weakened.
“It’s not a failure of the bricks but a failure of everything else keeping them in place,” Bagott said.
By morning light, the building had burned to the ground.
Overall, Bagott suggested that fighting this fire will make his department better.
“For us it was a good learning experience,” he said, pointing to the biggest lesson as getting water onto the other buildings quicker.
The Palouse Fire Department cleared the scene at approximately 7 p.m. April 8.
For more on the fire see pages 3 and 4.
By Sally Ousley
Jenny Meyer of Endicott is celebrating.
For the last 25 years, Meyer has been running the Endicott Food Center, where people go to not only get essential supplies, but where people go to what has become the hub of Endicott.
On April 9, Meyer was presented with flowers and a dinner certificate by a number of her customers who appreciate her hard work and devotion.
“She puts in long hours,” said one friend Kenda Hergert. “We really appreciate her.”
On Saturday, Meyer hosted a celebratory barbecue.
Hergert said Meyer participates in several activities in the Endicott community.
She took over ownership of the grocery store and cafe in April 1989.
“The opportunity came up and it was a change of life,” Meyer said.
She was driving school bus then and still does. Her career as a bus driver has extended for 30 years.
“It’s been easy because I’ve had a lot of help,” Meyer said.
Her daughter Tia Langston and her son Tony Anderson, and his wife Nancy, assist Meyer in the store. They cook breakfasts for hunters in the fall and also participate in town’s July Fourth celebration.
Every morning, a group of men gathers for coffee and conversation, leaving just in time for a group of women who congregate for coffee.
Aromas of good food waft through the store from the small kitchen adjacent to it, leading hungry folks to lunch.
Twice a month on Wednesdays Meyer prepares dinner.
She also helps with the Endicott Community Club activities.
Meyer said the store carries basic staples.
“We have what people need,” she said.
“I’m thankful for people who support me,” she said.
Colfax High golfers top home meet
Colfax boys topped a four-team match April 10 on the home course with a 220 team score topped by a two-over 37 medal win by Hunter Weitze. Kasey Johnson hit a 40 for second and Chance Weitze booked a 41 for third.
Other team scores were Northwest Christian 251, Wilbur/Creston 258 and Odessa 261.
Sheylee Felker of ACH hit a 46 to lead the girls with Sadie Gardner second at 46 and McKenna Davis of Colfax 50. Kyle Gronning hit 56 for the Bulldogs.
Other scores for the boys were Cody Gronning 43, Cody Muir 59 and A.J. Miller 61.
Monday on the par 72 Old Dominion course at Colville the Bulldgos took the team win with a 424 with Hunter Weitze carding a 76 for the medal.
Other finishers for Colfax were Johnson, fourth with a 79; Chance Weitze, sixth with 81, and Gronning, ninth with 83.
Muit hit 105 and Miller finished at 124.
Felker again won the medal for the girls. Davis carded an 86 for fifth, and Kylie Gronning hit 104 for ninth.
Colfax will play at Odessa today, Thursday, and at Fairways at Cheney next Tuesday.
It’s hard to tell if Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder has publicly embraced the desperate plight of Native Americans because he’s genuinely moved, or whether it’s a cynical crisis-management stunt by a man whose franchise is under siege because its name is a slur, the hateful R-word. If it is the latter, then Snyder might want to find new PR people.
He and/or they have announced that economic assistance will be funneled through their Original American Foundation. That’s right: OAF. Critics are having a field day with that, suggesting that Snyder’s open letter about providing coats, 3,000 so far, and athletic shoes and other largesse to reservations after he and his staff had visited several of them was nothing more than an oafishly cynical effort to take the heat off and try to slow momentum of a campaign to get rid of the team’s hateful brand. Snyder says he will never do that, because it represents a grand history of professional football in D.C.
Never mind that the tradition includes an owner, George Marshall, who was a rabid racist, who only allowed black players on his roster after heavy financial pressure. And, of course, never mind that the desperate straits Native Americans struggle with today have grown out of the brutal treatment afforded previous generations. The R-word is a symbol of that oppression, an inflammatory slur.
You’ve heard this all before. The debate has been laid out many times. President Barack Obama has weighed in carefully in favor of a new name. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has hinted that maybe the time has come. But perhaps those who live outside the Beltway, those who cheer for other teams, are wondering why they should even care about this issue, particularly when polls show that a majority of the fans don’t want a change.
First of all, let’s face it: Otherwise sensitive and socially conscious people turn into fanatics when it comes to their spectator sports. They’re crazed. I know, because I’m one of them. Still, we should be aware that a pejorative name for one of the teams demeans the entire league.
Snyder is well aware that a growing number of fair-minded fans are realizing that they are, in fact, deeply offended, now that the issue has been forced into their minds, and are beginning to question whether their cheers should include an out-and-out slur.
He’s clearly getting nervous. Why else would Snyder suddenly be moved to show his concern: “The more I heard, the more I’ve learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community.”
Obviously, it’s great that he has suddenly discovered the wretched conditions that plague the reservations, and plans to address them (he didn’t say how much he’d contribute). But, until he realizes that the nickname that identifies his business is a fundamental part of the problem, this is just a token effort.
A lot of us have had fun suggesting alternative names for the Washington Slurs: the Politicians, the Lobbyists, the Special Interests, all using a pig as a mascot. But here’s another idea: Let’s call them the OAFS. The symbol? A decal of Dan Snyder.
(Bob Franken is a syndicated columist.)
(c) 2014 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Synd.