We don’t know the person’s name, but he or she deserves a hearty thank you.

Whoever tipped off Baker City Fire Chief John Clark a week ago today about egregious fire safety violations at two Baker City motels performed a valuable public service.

The informant’s report prompted Clark to immediately inspect both the Super 8 and Motel 6. The chief confirmed the violations and on June 24 he ordered both businesses to close.

The violations can’t be explained away as minor oversights.

Clark said he has evidence, based on conversations with contractors who had worked at the buildings, that management knew about the deficiencies about two months ago.

The problems, which Clark said were intentional acts rather than, say, vandalism, resulted in fire alarm systems, and in the case of the Super 8 a sprinkler system, being inoperational.

Which means that a fire in either motel would have been more likely to turn into a tragedy than if those required safety systems were working.

Clark was right to act as quickly as he did in closing the motels, which are owned by the same family.

But he also acted reasonably in allowing both businesses to reopen on Thursday evening, once he had confirmed that the two contractors the owners hired had fixed the problems.

Protecting people is of course the first priority, as Clark noted.

But neither should the city keep a business closed so long as it meets all safety standards.

Clark said he doesn’t intend to change the regular schedule which includes yearly inspections of motels, except to do these during March and April, the idea being to deal with any potential problems before the busiest part of the tourist season.

That’s logical.

But the severity of the violations at the Super 8 and Motel 6 warrant something more than four nights of lost business. Nonfunctioning alarms and sprinklers is a considerably more serious issue than serving a substandard continental breakfast or failing to replace soiled towels.

Clark said financial penalties are possible.

Either that, or a more aggressive inspection schedule for their properties until the owners have regained a level of trust, is appropriate.

Fortunately for the local economy, the owners acted quickly after the closure. But they are ultimately responsible for the situation.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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