LIGHTNING GIVES ENTERPRISE A SHOCK

May 25, 2001 11:00 pm
Todd Steele of Courtney Motors shows the tire changer he was working on when the lightning blast blew him to the wall. (Observer photos/GARY FLETCHER).
Todd Steele of Courtney Motors shows the tire changer he was working on when the lightning blast blew him to the wall. (Observer photos/GARY FLETCHER).

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE A blast described as the loudest and scariest thing ever heard sent people to the deck Thursday in Enterprise.

Incoming! a veteran yelled as he dropped to the carpet in the Amoco Mountain Mart.

It darned near put me to the floor too, said Don Swart Jr, the cashier. I never heard anything that loud. Swart, who once photographed a 100-pound dynamite blast, said That didnt even begin to compare to what I heard Thursday.

Todd Steel was working in Courtney Motors detail shop when suddenly a loud explosion hurled him against the wall. It sounded like dynamite, like someone dropped a bomb in the alley there, he said. He would later learn it was a direct hit.

Lets stay put, Steel said to Mike Wergen, who had also been tossed by the blast.

After some 10 seconds, they crept to the open shop door and looked out and saw that 150 feet southeast, the top of Wergens Liquid Gas Co.s 75-foot two-way radio antennae was glowing red, with sparks jumping all over the alley pavement below.

It was one of several lightning strikes in and around Enterprise witnessed by residents. About 6:30 p.m. the storm put the lights out for some 800 people in Wallowa Lake, Joseph and parts of Enterprise. Power was restored by 7:55 p.m.

However, businesses in the block around the antennae strike are still without electronics such as computers, phones and faxes fried in the blast.

One business owner thought that it would be at least Tuesday before systems would be functional. He estimates his and his neighbors losses at more than $25,000.

The same area was struck by lightning before. It was about the late 1980s, Steel thought. He experienced that one too, but Thursdays was much scarier, he said.

Thursday, Wergens Liquid Gas Co. was dark and silent at the base of the charred-looking antennae.

When he reset the breaker, smoke came boiling out of the fax machine. Wergen took it outside. The answering machine was also hot, so it was unplugged. In spite of surge suppressors all three computers went down, along with a 110-watt two-way radio.

In the nearby Amoco, the fuel dispensers card-reading electronics were knocked out, $200 of fluorescent light tubes burned out and the microwave oven was cooked.

Maye Surber saw sparks shooting out of the light fixture in her apartment below Mayes Cafe. Shes considering adding blackened Cajun-fried steak to her menu.