By JENNIFER LIEBRUM and CHRISTINE COLBERT
Express Staff Writers
The fate of a historical home at River and Bullion streets, where Lucille Ball and Col. Harland Sanders once dined on Epi Inchausti’s celebrated Basque dinners, was uncertain Tuesday after a spectacular fountain of water exploded to the surface Sunday morning, filling the structure with a foundation-busting 7 feet of water.
Then on Monday afternoon, a second, less significant, city water line blew up north of there, at 511 Main St. It was merely a bubble up compared to the eruption that surrounded Bullion Square and some adjacent businesses like DaVinci’s and The Gem Barbershop, whose floors were, at the very least, wet Sunday.
By Tuesday, with the majority of the water cleaned up, a ban on potable water use was lifted and Hailey city officials were giving the site a thorough going-over to assess the real damage.
“Sunday was not the most fun day I’ve had, but we’ve had worse,” said Tom Hellen, city of Hailey engineer and public works director.
Hellen said it was too soon to establish the costs affiliated with the response and cleanup, or how much the city’s insurance policy, which covers the pipe, will provide in reparations. “But there will be lots of eyes on it to determine what needs to be done.”
It all started when a Hailey police officer on patrol in the area noticed water running furiously from the alley between Main and River streets about 6:15 a.m. As the officer turned the corner around the midtown restaurant and shopping strip, “literally, the asphalt went up and water went everywhere,” Hellen said.
“When I got here, there was a rippling stream of water flowing down the street,” said Ken Ward, owner of the former Inchausti home on the corner of Bullion and River streets.
The Hailey Fire Department shut off the water as soon as it was able to, and what wasn’t rushing down to the Big Wood River became a temporary wading pool around much of the center, anchored by L.L Green’s Hardware and Big Belly Deli.
Hellen said it was a main city line that burst, and the water washed away soil under the asphalt, leaving some voids underneath.
“This can happen any time of the year and you never know why until you dig it up,” he said. “It’s one of those things that we can’t do anything about until something by chance breaks.”
The roadway on Bullion Street that was damaged has been filled in with gravel, a temporary solution to make it useable until spring when asphalt can be poured.
Businesses along the corner of Bullion and Main streets received fliers informing them of questionable water quality due to the flood. But Hellen said water quality samples returned Tuesday gave the all-clear, meaning businesses no longer had to boil water for use.
Just as Hailey officials thought they had a handle on the Bullion Square eruption, they were called to Wood River Dental at 511 Main St. just after 3 p.m. Monday, where a smaller pipe had blown.
“That was just a bubble up,” Hellen said. “It wasn’t enough to do major damage—the water flowed where it should.”
It also was in a smaller, copper pipe than the first. This was one that ran from the street to the business.
As disaster cleanup commenced in the Wards’ basement, the news wasn’t great. The basement of the building was used to store files associated with the couple’s business, Sun Valley Real Estate. Many contained important legal documents, Ken ward said.
Once the water was out, the foundation collapsed, opening the door to the likelihood of condemnation.
“We lost some office equipment, and our files that we kept down there,” Ward said. “We’ve already started looking for another office space.”
“It was just a total fluke,” Cindy Ward said of the situation. “Now we just have to wait and see what the insurance company is going to say.”
The Inchausti family, longtime Hailey residents, previously owned the Cornerstone building, and through the 1960s and ’70s, Epi Inchausti often held private Basque dinners for visitors to Sun Valley, according to relative Julie Stevens. The Wards have owned the building for 25 years.