When: Ephrata Borough Council meeting, Aug. 9.
What happened: The heat from the Aug 4. fire that destroyed the Weaver Nut Company’s warehouse was still evident during the public meeting. Although he did not name her, a clearly upset Mayor Ralph Mowen took issue with statements posted on Facebook by resident Rebecca Beres, who is running for council to represent the borough’s 2nd Ward.
Social media controversy: Beres’ Facebook posts claimed that “parts of Ephrata were out of water” and that Borough Council had been “warned numerous times that our water system cannot supply enough water in an emergency situation.” She included a plea for residents to conserve water. Another post was aimed at the council members, saying that if elected she would “make changes that our community deserves” and that there would be “no backroom deals, no lined pockets, no dirty dealings.”
Mayor’s response: Mowen said these “comments and accusations were not only untrue but slanderous” intended only “to bolster a political campaign.” The writer had “crossed the line” he said. “The Weaver Nut was certainly not a normal fire,” Mowen said of last week’s four-alarm blaze in neighboring Clay Township that involved scores of firefighters and about 70 vehicles. “There was no issue with water supply other than the fact you can only get so much water through a pipe.” The result was that demands on water drew “the lake and reservoir down “to a near critical level.” Mowen added, “The rumor is going around that if the water department had provided more water the building could’ve been saved. That is totally untrue.”
Quotable: “The writer has turned a major disaster into her quest for votes,” Mowen said. Praising the firefighting efforts Mowen said he was “disgusted that someone would turn this tragedy into a political issue.”
Follow-up: Contacted after the meeting, Beres did not back away from her statements other than to say she was “sorry that my comments were taken out of context.” She added, “Contrary to the mayor’s claims, my post was not made as an attempt to gain political fame off a tragedy, but rather as a public safety message. But now that this has been turned into being about politics, please know I am not interested in joining Borough Council to gain councilman friends. I am interested only in being the voice for the citizens of the 2nd Ward and a voice of truth for the community. The system is broken, and I want to try and help fix it.”
Fire official’s comment: During the meeting, Lincoln fire Chief Rich Gehman, who was overall command at the fire, said flames were through the roof of the warehouse even as the first engines arrived. The area around Weaver Nut Co. is served by a single 12-inch water main studded throughout by fire hydrants. Still, he said, firefighters can only tap into a limited number of those hydrants. Despite those limitations, Gehman said the system “met and exceeded our expectations ... at no time did they really lose water supply,” he said. Supply did dip when two extra hydrants were tapped, but they were quickly shut down and full pressure restored. To bolster the water main, as many as 27 tanker trucks were summoned from around Lancaster and Lebanon counties. Considering firefighters were pouring 3,000 gallons per minute onto the fire, tankers had to leave the scene and head for one of four fill locations to reload. That meant calls about being out of water were not from residents but from tankers expending their supply.
Businesses saved: Although the warehouse was a total loss, Gehman expressed his appreciation to those involved for saving everything around the blaze. Weaver’s office and store were saved, although damaged, as was neighboring Red Run Exhaust which had sustained external damage. Other nearby businesses, Horst Auction Center and Zimmerman Masonry, were also saved.