Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

IMNAHA — A car fire threatening the Imnaha Store and Tavern was extinguished yesterday afternoon by a large community effort and a dose of luck.

According to Tim Roberts, who has a small fire engine he operates in coordination with the Oregon Department of Forestry, neighbors were stringing out hoses from their homes to put out the fire when he arrived.

“I got a call from (tavern owner) Sallie (Tanzey) that there was a car on fire in front of the store,” he said.

Roberts said the Chevy SUV was smoking as it pulled into a parking spot next to a large propane tank, but the driver was unable to open the hood to put out the fire.

Johnny Gibson, a heavy equipment operator, was already there when Roberts arrived. Gibson unloaded a backhoe off a trailer and used it to lift the hood of the SUV so water could be sprayed directly on the fire.

“It was just pure dumb luck that Johnny arrived when he did,” said Enterprise Fire Chief Paul Karvoski.

Joseph and Enterprise Fire Departments, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry personnel and sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the scene. Roberts, who was closer than any of the other resources, said he arrived 40 minutes ahead of the other fire engines.

“The county’s response was tremendous — they emptied the barn,” Roberts said.

If the fire hadn’t been contained, Karvoski said, it could have ignited the propane tanks and potentially burned down the tavern, the Roadhouse next door and possibly other buildings in town.

Karvoski said the temperature was 105 degrees in Imnaha at the time of the fire, around 2:45 p.m.
Roberts said the wind was blowing as well, and he credited the Imnaha
residents for acting quickly.

“The community does well in that kind of situation,” he said.