Archive for Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Another rural home falls victim to fire

October 27, 2004

Firefighters from seven departments responded to Thursday afternoon's blaze in the southwest part of the county.

But they realized all too soon the house at 25493 Kansas Ave. could not be saved, said Tim Smith, assistant fire chief for Tonganoxie Township.

The house fire, six miles southwest of Tonganoxie, was raging by the time the first sheriff's officer arrived.

"He (the sheriff's officer) said it was 12 minutes from the time he got the call to when he arrived at the house," Smith said. "They told him the fire started in the basement, but by the time he got there, there were already flames coming out of the front window."

The fire grew so quickly, Smith said, firefighters were unable to try to fight the fire from inside the house.

Although the house, valued at $200,000 according to owner Diane Smith, was a total loss, the family was safe.

Smith and her 15-year-old daughter, Rebekah, and her 11-year-old son, Nick, were home when the fire started at about 2 p.m. Thursday. Smith operates a home-based business that sells computer software to physicians, and her two younger children were home because there was no school that day.

"We smelled smoke and the fire detectors went off," Smith said. "Rebekah went downstairs and saw fire behind the dryer."

Smith said when her daughter yelled, she too went downstairs.

"The fire was in front of the dryer and it was up to my waist," Smith recalled.

They went upstairs to call for help, but both phone lines were dead.

Her son, Nick, was in his bedroom.

"He grabbed his horn from school and his bookbag and Rebekah grabbed her bookbag," Smith said, adding that Rebekah also took the time to grab her older brother, Nate's bookbag. She wanted to get her mother's new laptop computer as well, but it was too late.

"The kitchen was on fire," Smith said.

Call for help

Smith and her two younger children drove to a neighbor's home to call for help. Her older sons, Matthias, 19, and Nate, 18, were not at home when the fire broke out.

Smith said she thinks the fire could have started in one of three places -- the clothes dryer, the water heater or a woodburning furnace in the garage.

Since the fire, the family has been staying with friends in Overland Park, and Smith has been searching for a house to rent.

Other than the little they carried out the door with them, the family lost all their possessions in the fire. Neighbors found shoes for the two younger children Thursday night. Church members and friends bought new clothes for the children to wear to church. The Red Cross has helped.

Nothing can replace the fact that she and her children are safe, Smith said.

And, she said the fire taught her a lesson.

"It's the weirdest thing because material things mean nothing to me anymore," Smith said. "My kids are the same. I think we're so happy that we have each other. I mean if I have a couple of outfits to wear that's OK with me. It's just unbelievable how I feel like I've changed overnight with this situation."

But, she noted, she's well aware of what was lost -- her work computers and records, family photos and videotapes and even an antique pitcher and glass set passed down in her husband's family for 200 years.

And as for the country acreage where her six-bedroom house burned, where her youngest child was born and where she lived for 20 years, Smith plans to go back.

"I will probably rebuild on the property," Smith said.

Standard procedure

Firefighter Tim Smith asked for an investigation by the state fire marshal's office, which is standard procedure.

"It (the fire) went up fast," Smith said. "That's one of the things that made it kind of suspicious for us."

Smith works out of town, but left work early to come to the fire because he knew only one other of his firefighters would be able to help out.

"I was there 45 minutes after the initial fire call came out," Smith said. "The house was basically on the ground at that time. ... For a fire that started in the basement to have moved through a house that quickly is just unbelievable."

And, Smith said, the department had been called to that location before, once for a barn fire and another time for a grass fire.

But, according to Smith, the fire marshal's investigation stated the cause of the fire was listed as undetermined.

Smith was appreciative of the fire departments that responded. These included Jefferson County township departments from Union and Sarcoxie, along with Leavenworth County departments from Tonganoxie, Reno, Stranger and Fairmount townships and Tonganoxie city.

By 7:30 p.m. Thursday the fire was out. But later in the evening, firefighters were called back. Smith stayed up all night, spraying water on flareups. Altogether, 30,000 gallons of water were sprayed on the house.

For firefighters it was the third major disappointment in recent months. The first was a home owned by Mark Elston south of Tonganoxie and the second was the Todd fire north of Tonganoxie. Both rural homes were totally destroyed.

"Three in three months that we've had that were bad fires like this," Smith said. "We just can't seem to dodge the bullet."

Fires like this make his work discouraging.

"We keep getting these bad ones like this," Smith said. "We don't have a chance to do anything with them when we get there -- there's not an opportunity to get inside and knock the fire down."

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