Fire destroys historic buildings in Lostine

By Katy Nesbitt February 10, 2014 11:12 am

LOSTINE — A Saturday morning fire in Lostine destroyed the historic Norton’s Welding and the Southfork Grange Hall buildings, both estimated to be more than 100 years old, fire officials said.

Jamie Calhoun of the Lostine Fire Department told Enterprise Fire Chief Paul Karvoski that he received a page and responded to Norton’s Welding. He and others who arrived after 10 a.m. broke a window and knocked in a door. 

“I saw spots of fire inside,” Calhoun said.

Enterprise Fire Chief Paul Karvoski, who took on the incident commander responsibilities, said by the time he arrived on scene Norton’s and the Grange were fully engulfed. Shortly after the fire trucks rolled into Lostine and firefighters started fighting the blaze, acetylene tanks that run welding machines were exploding. 

“You could hear them vent and then there was a loud percussion coming from the southeast corner,” Karvoski said. “It was a little dicey there for a while.”

Karvoski said he and Wallowa County Deputy Joe Reeves ducked behind a truck and other onlookers scattered during the explosions. Propane tanks behind the welding shop and the Grange also blew up, putting both a large home and the Lostine Tavern at risk.

Firefighters wet down the tavern and were able to keep the blaze from spreading to other structures and additional propane tanks to the northwest.

“There wasn’t anything different we could have done to save anything,” Karvoski said.

Firefighting efforts were hampered by a lack of access to water. A hydrant by the Blue Banana Coffee Shop blew apart, according to Karvoski, and there wasn’t enough water pressure to do what the crews wanted to do. A hydrant between M. Crow and Co. and the backside of the welding shop was used. Crews from the Joseph Fire Department brought in two additional water tenders. 

“It was one thing after another,” Karvoski said.

Because power and phone lines at the corner of Highway 82 and Wallowa Street were in the line of the fire, those utilities were cut. One photo taken during the early part of the fire showed sparks coming from the lines. 

Shutting off the power prevented using the pump for the city’s well, which also complicated matters, Karvoski said.

While firefighters were battling the blaze with water, several people went into action clearing out machinery in and behind Norton’s shop. Terry Jones ran a backhoe, dragging tools and equipment from the shop, while many others were able to remove most of the machinery from the back shop and the lot on Wallowa Street.

After conducting several interviews from eyewitnesses and firefighters who responded first to the scene, Karvoski said preliminary indications point to the fire starting in Norton Welding’s office which faces Highway 82. He said there will not be an inspection by the state fire marshal.

Krag and Kim Norton said they had pulled off Interstate 84 in Baker City on their way to their son’s wrestling tournament when they got a call that their shop was on fire. They said they immediately turned around and drove back to Lostine, making phone calls as they drove home asking for help clearing what equipment could be safely removed. 

Once the fire had died down and crews were mopping up, Jones brought in an excavator to separate and cool the debris. Karvoski said he turned over control of the fire to Krag Norton, who is also Lostine’s mayor, at 2:30 p.m.

By nightfall a woodstove that Krag’s father, Clarence, had built was used as a warming fire while crews continued to mop up. 

Clarence Norton bought the building in 1977 and ran it alone for many years. Krag Norton now runs the business, which employs six people. For now, Norton’s headquarters will be in Norton’s automotive shop, 200 yards northwest of where the welding shop was.

On Sunday, Krag Norton said he had at least four people offer him space in their shops to store and work on their customers’ equipment. He said upon consulting with his insurance company he may be able to start ripping and tearing the remaining rubble as soon as this week.

“You hear it all the time, when you need help it comes in a heartbeat,” Kim Norton said.

The back shop was partially damaged and Norton said that the wall that was burned would be removed and another built as soon as possible.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the whole community, the fire departments, all the help we’ve received and the hundreds of phone calls,” said Krag Norton.