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Dealership burns to ground in early Saturday morning fire PDF Print E-mail
Written 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, Neb.

“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 later Saturday and returned for further investigation this week.

Harchelroad said the 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 that was being torn down.

Plans were to construct a new, larger service shop on the north 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 alignment rack and other shop equipment there.

All of their parts department was lost, which included three levels of storage, 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.

Foul play ruled out

One thing 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 Ryan Sylvester of Ogallala, Neb., who was on the scene Tuesday with investigators for Harchelroad’s insurance carrier.

One of the insurance company investigators 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.

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, Neb., Wauneta, Neb. and Grant, Neb. fire departments.

In addition to both Imperial’s city and rural pumpers, the other three departments also had pumpers on the scene, Dannatt said.

He noted they needed every bit of help they had.

He also expressed his admirations for the IVFD firefighters.

“I am just so proud of our department. Everything just flowed and clicked like clockwork,” Dannatt said.

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 mostly 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 bank was charred and the sheeting under the siding was discolored from the heat.

Neighbor called to alert owner

Harchelroad said he learned of the fire from Roma Jean Burtis, who lives in the block east of the business.

Harchelroad said he didn’t get to the phone quickly enough 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 was still raging.

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.