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La Grande Observer Daily paper 08/25/14

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Home arrow Wallowa Life arrow Canyon Notes arrow Lostine fire response gratifying

Lostine fire response gratifying

My town had a fire. It’s rough taking pictures through tears of the town’s grange hall and one of its essential businesses.

There’s a lot of variety in the life of a general reporter, but I do not like covering stories about drowned babies and the loss of people’s homes, businesses or community centers, but when the phone rings, I throw on a coat, grab the camera and notebook and run.

I should have known something was going on. I was making sweet roll dough to pay back people who had helped me out of a jam the previous weekend when I heard Bridey howling. I let her inside and forgot that she only howls at sirens, and sirens mean I should find out where the fire or wreck is. But I didn’t. I went back to making my roll dough until the phone rang.

When I got the call, I raced around changing out of my pajamas and asked my scout to warm up a vehicle. When we got near the end of the lane, we weren’t allowed to continue so I started snapping photos with my camera and the scout did the same with his phone. I could see Terry Jones pulling tools and equipment out of the back of Norton’s shop with a backhoe and many, many others scrambling to save equipment from the blaze.

After several explosions, we trudged through the snow to the front of the buildings. Two of Norton’s employees stood along the highway, dumbfounded. Several people gathered to watch as the buildings went down quickly in flames.

Once the fire was in mop-up mode, we headed home. I wanted to get photos on the Observer’s website as soon as possible, but the power had been shut off. Luckily you don’t need power to send pictures from a phone, so my scout was able to email his pictures to the home office while I texted a caption to our editor on my “dumb phone,” glad I didn’t have to write the whole story that way.

Before Krag Norton had even returned home, he called me to ask if he could get a full-page ad in the Observer, thanking everyone who helped out. 

I finished up my roll dough about the time I got a text asking if the Lostine Tavern was on fire, so we drove back up to check. Apparently, the rumor mill was working faster than uploading photos to the Internet. On our return, I was able to get a couple of sentences out of Incident Commander Paul Karvoski and I fired off an update to the home office.

With my lane blocked off, there was nothing left to do but head up the hill behind the house and go skiing. We could see the smoke in the distance until twilight. By then, a few diehards had gathered in the falling snow around a wood stove salvaged from Norton’s shop, a sort of wake for the lost buildings.

By noon the next day, at least four people had offered the Nortons shop space, and Krag and Kim Norton were working out how to continue business, clean up the debris and carry on. 

That’s how we do it in Wallowa County.

 
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