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Cause of fire at Harchelroad’s remains under investigation PDF Print E-mail

Fire investigators

expected here at least

through this week

By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican

Emotions were still running strong Tuesday as owner Sid Harchelroad talked about the early Saturday morning fire that destroyed the Harchelroad Motors building in Imperial.
“There have been a lot better days,” he said.
When Harchelroad arrived on the fire scene that morning shortly after 2 a.m., he said he was just devastated. On Tuesday, those feelings still left him numb.
“There were just a lot of pictures, memorabilia, plaques and awards gone. Just a lot of history gone,” he said.
As he talked about the fire Tuesday, investigators hired by Harchelroad Motors’ insurance carrier and a representative from the insurance company were on the scene. State Fire Marshal investigators were on the scene already on Saturday and returned for further investigation this week.
Harchelroad said the dollar loss “will be in the millions.”
The cause of the fire, one of the biggest in Imperial in many years, is yet to be determined.
The 150 x 150-foot Harchelroad Motors facility at 316 Broadway included a showroom, offices, parts department, body shop and the service shop, the latter of which was being torn down.
Plans were to construct a new, larger service shop on the north side once the old shop was gone.
“The rest of the building was in great shape,” Harchelroad said.
While four hoists had been moved to Harchelroad’s building across the street to the west, they still lost the shop’s alignment rack and other equipment there.
All of the parts department was lost, which included three levels for parts inventory, as well as the car wash and equipment, and tools and equipment in the body shop.
Harchelroad said the paint booth in the body shop was valued at $100,000 alone.
Since Harchelroad’s had moved things out of the shop prior to the start of demolition, there were no vehicles in the shop or showroom.
The city of Imperial lost the Expedition used by its police department. It was in the body shop being repaired from hail damage.
Koellner Enterprises’ large excavator and skid loader were severely damaged in the fire, as well.
Foul play ruled out
One thing Imperial Fire Chief Bryan Dannatt was able to say Tuesday about the cause of the fire is that foul play has been ruled out.
That’s according to State Fire Marshal Investigator Ryan Sylvester of Ogallala, who was on the scene this week along with the insurance investigators.
Insurance company investigator George PIckett, who was on the scene Tuesday, said they’d likely be here the rest of the week completing their investigation.
“It definitely was the biggest fire I’ve been at as chief,” Dannatt said.
Several calls came into the dispatcher reporting the fire early that morning.
The Imperial Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD) was paged at 1:45 a.m. Saturday. Once on the scene, Dannatt said all they could do was attack it from the exterior. No interior firefighting was attempted.
Minutes after the IVFD was paged, mutual aid calls were made to the Lamar, Wauneta and Grant fire departments.
In addition to both Imperial’s city and rural pumpers, the other three departments also had pumpers on the scene, Dannatt said, and several other units.     
He noted they needed every bit of the help they had.
In order to quickly shut down the electricity feeding into the building and the immediate vicinity, city utility workers had to shut down power to much of the east side of Broadway, and some blocks to the west.
In doing so, that shut down power to two of Imperial’s water well pumps for a time, dropping the pressure in the city’s mains. That resulted in close management, at times, of the water streams.
The two wells were down only temporarily. City Public Works Director Pat Davison said they did some switching around in the problem area to get those two wells back on line as soon as possible.
Imperial’s new city and rural pumpers both have the capacity of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute.
Davison said, at capacity with all five city water wells running, 3,300 to 3,400 gallons per minute can be pumped.
Dannatt expressed his admiration for the work of the IVFD and other firefighters.
“I am just so proud of our department. Everything just flowed and clicked like clockwork,” Dannatt said.
Thankfully, Dannatt said no one was injured or killed.
“But, we had a lot of really tired firemen,” he said.
Firefighters were on the scene just short of 17 hours, until about 6:30 p.m. Saturday when all the Imperial units were back at the fire hall.
Flare-ups called the IVFD back at 6:36 p.m. and again at 10:17 p.m.
While they were unable to save the Harchelroad Motors building, nearby structures, which included homes to the east and businesses to the north and south, were largely unharmed.
First Bank & Trust Co., to the north, sustained some damage to its drive up area due to the fire’s intense heat. A light fixture melted, cedar siding on the south of the drive up was charred and the sheeting under that siding was discolored from the heat.
Unlike most mornings in recent weeks here, firefighters didn’t have to deal with freezing temperatures Saturday morning. The bank’s sign to the north read 38 degrees when they arrived on scene.  
A total of 47 firefighters fought the blaze—24 from Imperial, 10 from Grant, seven from Lamar and six from Wauneta.
Neighbor called to alert owner
Harchelroad said he learned of the fire that morning from Roma Jean Burtis, who lives in the block east of the business.
Harchelroad said he didn’t get to his phone quickly enough during the early morning hour, and had to call Burtis back using the phone’s caller ID.
“She just said there’s a fire at your dealership. I asked if she called 911 and she had,” he said.
He then called 911 himself, when he was told the business was fully engulfed.
Looking out his window from his home south of Enders Lake, Harchelroad said he could see the orange glow from Imperial.
“It looked like half of Imperial was on fire, under that orange glow,” he said.
He said he got to town as quickly as he could, as the fire raged.
His partner in the business, brother Brian Harchelroad of Wauneta and wife Michelle were soon on the scene. Sid’s son, Dillon of Imperial, who represents the fourth generation involved in the family business, was also on the scene with other family members.
Officers from the police and county sheriff’s departments were on the scene initially for traffic control. The Department of Roads also assisted later in the morning.
Imperial EMS had two ambulances on site throughout the morning as a precaution.
About 70 gallons of foam was used on the scene after the fire was under control, Dannatt said.


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