Archive for Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Fire levels house near Tonganoxie school

September 30, 2003

An intense fire early this morning leveled a house across the street from Tonganoxie Elementary School.

No one was home at 303 E. Third St. when the fire broke out about 3 a.m., according to Tonganoxie Fire Chief Dave Bennett.

When firefighters arrived about 3:15 a.m. at the northeast corner of Third and Shawnee streets, Bennett said, the house was engulfed in flames. By first light today, only a brick chimney and a pile of blackened wood remained.

"For the first time in my 17 years, we could not do an interior attack," Bennett said. "We didn't even have a chance when we got here."

The blaze was hot enough to melt siding and guttering on a neighboring house, which was 16 feet away. That home, owned by Steve and Brenda Firuccia, had only minor water and smoke damage.

"It's pretty good," Firuccia said. "We got a little water damage."

Tom Heinz, 17, said his mother, Frances Heinz, and her boyfriend, Allen Miller, lived at the house. Tom Heinz said no one was home at the time of the fire. He said his mother was at work in the bakery department of the Wal-Mart store in Bonner Springs, while Miller was out of town, helping a friend move. Tom Heinz was staying with his grandparents.

As dawn broke, investigators from the State Fire Marshal's office searched the charred remains, trying to determine the cause of the fire. Although early reports said natural gas was a possible cause, firefighters on the scene said natural gas was not a factor.

"It appears right now to not be a gas explosion or leak," Bennett said.

The house is east across the street from Tonganoxie Elementary School, 304 Shawnee. This morning, traffic was diverted from the street between the school and the burned structure.

A total of 25 to 40 firefighters from three fire departments worked to contain the blaze, and many were still on the scene by midmorning. The Tonganoxie City Fire Department was assisted by firefighters from Stranger Township and Tonganoxie Township fire departments.

For more about the fire, see Wednesday's edition of The Mirror newspaper.

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