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Quick-thinking driver saves tavern, douses fire

A newspaper carrier saved a Rosalia tavern from going up in flames in the early morning hours of Feb. 26.

Pat Conley, 30, a driver and carrier for The Spokesman-Review, was driving through Rosalia around 3 a.m. and noticed what he thought was a barrel on fire.

“I couldn’t believe someone would leave something like that unattended,” he said.

What he found was a flower box on fire outside the Brass Rail Tavern. Conley said the flames were about 4 feet high and about 2 feet wide.

He quickly called 911 and the Rosalia Fire Department was on its way. Meanwhile, he knew he had some water in his truck that he keeps with him when he’s delivering papers. He poured it on the fire.

“It went out,” he said.

Chief Bill Tensfeld told the Whitman County Gazette a cigarette ignited the peat moss in the flower box. If the fire had burned for another 10 minutes, Tensfeld estimated, the tavern could have burned down.

Jim and Debbie Porter have owned the Brass Rail for a little more than a year. The couple were on vacation when the fire happened and they heard about it the next day. They are grateful for Conley and his quick thinking that morning.

“I just thought we’d send him a gift certificate,” Debbie Porter said, enough for two steak dinners.

The tavern is one of two in the town of about 650 people. The building has been there since 1905 and has served as a bar and a laundry over the years.

Jim Porter said damage to the building was minimal. He didn’t claim it on his insurance, but spent $100 on new siding. They also took down the flower boxes and put up new signs near the door.

Debbie Porter said they enforce the smoking laws – smokers must stand at least 25 feet from the front door. She thought maybe someone left the cigarette in the flower box to save it for later, but it wasn’t completely out.

They know what they almost lost that night and are grateful Conley happened to be there.

“We want to meet him,” Jim Porter said of Conley. “And thank him personally and buy him dinner.”

Conley said he only delivers the Sunday paper. He’s been doing that for five or six years and works by day as an assistant manager at Taco Bell in Airway Heights.

Sometimes when he’s driving through Rosalia on his route, it’s early enough that there are still patrons at the tavern. The fire didn’t slow him down too much that morning, however. Conley said he was back on the road in about 45 minutes.

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