Passersby assist in putting out fire
Swift action by passersby and firefighters prevented a mobile home from being totally destroyed.
Authorities believe the Thursday afternoon fire started in a bag containing used charcoal that was on the deck of a double wide mobile home owned by Brandon and Stephanie McGehee.
The mobile home is located in Paradise Trailer Park, on U.S. Highway 24-40 south of Tonganoxie.
Sgt. Charlie Yates, of the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Department, said firefighters had ruled out faulty wiring as a cause of the fire.
"The wiring appeared to be good," Yates said. "Nothing else, except the charcoal, appeared to have started it."
According to Yates, the owner of the home told him the coals had been put in the sack more than a week earlier.
"You could see where the sack had been sitting on the deck and had burned the area," Yates said. "Apparently it dropped down beneath the deck and the flames caught up inside the walls of the home."
The fire was first noticed by a neighbor, who asked to be called only "Becky."
"I drove around the drive and saw it on fire," she said. "Smoke was coming up, and around the corner of the house there were flames."
Becky said she alerted a resident inside the double-wide mobile home and the man and a cat made it safely outside.
Then, as her daughter and other neighbors called 911, Becky picked up a hose and began spraying the fire. Then she went next door to grab another hose.
Robert Zoellers and his boss, Robert Hull, who owns Bob's Mobile Home Service in Ottawa, had set up a mobile home at the park and were leaving for Ottawa when they saw the flames.
"Bob said, 'That thing's on fire,'" Zoellers said. "We didn't see anybody there and we just stopped, jumped out and grabbed a hose and tried to put the fire out."
Zoellers climbed atop a nearby shed to get a better angle for spraying the fire.
During this time, neighbors and the occupant of the house began removing clothing and other property from the area of the home that was not on fire.
Helen Norman, who lives across the street, was outside tending her flowers when the fire started.
She helped carry items out of the house.
"We had a pretty good group over there carrying stuff out," Norman said.
Becky praised the passersby for helping, as well as firefighters, who she said responded within five minutes.
When Yates arrived at the mobile home park, he didn't think there would be much hope to save the home.
"I really thought it was going to go when I got here," Yates said. "The smoke was barreling out of the eaves."
As for Zoellers, the passerby who stood on the shed roof to spray the fire, the next day, he said he wasn't feeling well.
"When we left the fire, my eyes were stinging and I was coughing, choking and throwing up a little bit," Zoellers said. "I didn't go to work today," he said on Friday. "I've had a headache all day."