Victims of the Main Street Fire were given 60 days to either remove the fire debris from their downtown lots or present cleanup plans to the city according to Lovelock Mayor Mike Giles. 

Almost a year after the arson fire destroyed three commercial buildings, the Lovelock City Council declared the rubble a nuisance and a public safety hazard. Todd Plimpton responded to a phone call during the city council’s “show cause” hearing but members of the Murphy family, who were also notified of the hearing, failed to respond in person or by phone, Giles said.

“Nobody from the Murphy klan showed up. Todd was on the phone,” he said. “The council did find that a hazard exists and there has to be some type of action plan in place within 60 days. Mr. Plimpton was very helpful. He’s willing to do anything he can to help get it cleaned up.”

Plimpton told the city he has discussed the situation with retired District Court Judge Richard Wagner who confirmed volunteers are willing to help remove the eyesore. Plimpton did not have fire insurance and is looking for any help he can get from the community according to Giles.

“He admits that it’s his problem but he said everything he owned was in that building when it went up (in smoke) and it’s taken a while to get back on his feet,” Giles said. “He said he’s been talking on a regular basis with Mr. Wagner so we’ll see where it all goes.”

Plimpton said he has applied for financial help from a victims’ fund “controlled out of Las Vegas” according to Giles. Lovelock and Pershing County do not have victims’ funds available, he said.

If the debris is not removed, or plans are not ready, the city might take over the project by placing liens on the lots and billing property owners for the cleanup costs. The project could cost the city at least $40,000 but state funds could help offset some of the costs. A tentative redevelopment plan for the burned area was submitted with the grant application, Giles said.

In the months after the fire, members of the Murphy family said their attorney advised them not to disturb the debris since it was a crime scene and could still be considered evidence, Giles said. However, District Attorney Bryce Shields has informed Giles that is no longer the case.

As for potential hazardous waste, such as asbestos or lead paint in the debris field, samples taken by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection indicated the downtown debris, and some already at the landfill was free of contamination and could be disposed of normally.

However, Giles said the city hired an independent contractor to take additional samples to be sure the debris is not contaminated with hazardous waste. The project was funded by the EPA.

“They took 42 samples from Mr. Plimpton’s buildings,” Giles said. “We don’t have permission to get any samples from Mr. Murphy’s building. We’ve been offering the Brownfield program to look at his building and haven’t heard anything and nobody showed up last night at the meeting. We have to notify the Murphys and, if nothing happens in 60 days and the city starts working on it, it’s going to cost them money. We’ll put a lien on the property. Mr. Plimpton has 60 days to either get it cleaned up or have a plan in place on when it’s going to happen.”

Plimpton agreed to the debris tests but the Murphy family did not respond to the city’s requests, Giles said. As a result, Plimpton’s debris has been cleared for clean up but the Murphy family’s bookstore debris has not been tested by the city for hazardous waste, Giles said. The city may need a court order to test the bookstore debris before it can be removed from the site.

“We need to be able to ensure to the county commissioners that there is no hazardous waste in there,” Giles said. “That’s done with testing. We haven’t tested the bookstore yet. We have to explore our legal options - whether we can get some type of order to test and get that done.”

The Murphy family also owns the “Bank Building” that survived the fire but may have sustained structural damage due to the heat and water. A structural engineer observed cracks in the exterior walls, possibly due to the fire, but said an interior inspection is needed to confirm.

Giles said he still does not have permission from the Murphy family for an interior inspection. He’s concerned the building could collapse during cleanup of the adjacent bookstore debris.

Despite the obstacles, Giles hopes the debris cleanup will get underway in November.

“Mr. Wagner said that he has some volunteers ready to go. As we’re getting into fall, a lot of these farmers that could come forward with dump trucks, they are not farming anymore so it might be happening this fall. We need a commitment on the money we’re going to get so we can say we can help to do this or this. It’s a grant and we’ll have to come up with a match.”

Giles said the pandemic has also delayed the city’s debris cleanup process. The city is still awaiting a response to the request for cleanup funds that was submitted in early September. 

“People are upset but they’ve got to remember, what did they do in March, April, May, June? They stayed home,” he said. “State offices are still working from home. I will say it’s been a very frustrating time for dealing with state agencies...Things have been moving but it takes time.”