Archive for Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Candle sparks apartment fire

December 6, 2000

A fire started by a candle Friday night caused $25,000 damage to a Tonganoxie apartment and destroyed furnishings estimated at $10,000.

Julie Bissitt, who lived at 1207 Ridge Circle said she was at home by herself when the fire began.

"I was in the up-stairs bedroom -- I heard a noise downstairs and by the time I came down, flames were on the couch," Bissitt said. "I was trying to get it put out, but couldn`t."

At the same time, she was calling the fire department.

"All of a sudden there were flames all over the place," she said.

Bissitt, who was barefooted when trying to extinguish the fire, suffered minor burns on her feet.

Tonganoxie fire chief Charlie Conrad said the fire was reported at 7 p.m. Firefighters from Tonganoxie City Fire Department, Tonganoxie Township Fire Department and Stranger Township Fire Department responded.

When firefighters arrived, it appeared that the apartment`s lower floor was fully involved in fire, Conrad said.

"We did a quick knockdown -- you go in the structure and attack it with the water that`s on the truck," he said.

The knockdown ended up being successful, Conrad said.

"But we didn`t know it until about an hour later because the heat was so extreme," he added.

The apartment complex, which is owned by First Management, Lawrence, was built before the city had fire codes. It had no firewalls to separate the apartment or attic from the other apartments.

To release heat from the attic, firefighters climbed 36-foot ground ladders and cut two holes in the roof.

"There was so much pressure from the heat in the attic that when he was making his last cut on the first hole, the pressure blew the debris off the roof," Conrad said.

Had the firefighters arrived even one minute later, Conrad suspects there would have been a flashover and the fire would have spread to the other units.

"It was ready to ignite," Conrad said. "It melted the shower curtains to the shower upstairs, pictures on the walls were melted down it was really close to exploding -- it was ready to flash over upstairs."

Saturday morning, Bissitt, who lived in the apartment with her two children, sifted through the debris to try to salvage what she could. Beside the front door, two clothes baskets held nearly all that was left. As she stood in the soggy charred remains of her former home, she said nearly everything was lost, including her family`s Christmas tree. Representatives from the American Red Cross had already given assistance in the form of a $430 voucher for Bissitt to purchase some needed items from Target.

"I guess I`ll have to start shopping some for the kids to get some stuff for school," she said.

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