Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fireworks suspected in house blaze

July 12, 2007

A day after her home was damaged by fire, Eudora resident Cheri Powell counted her blessings.

It could have been much worse, she said. She could have lost everything. Or worse, she or her neighbors could have been hurt.

The 51-year-old Powell was rescued from her home by Greydon Walker, a Eudora police officer. The blaze started about 10 p.m. July 4 causing an entire city block to be evacuated and setting into motion a chain of events that included a downed power line and an underground natural gas leak.

Eight neighboring agencies responded to the fire that Eudora Fire Department officials suspect was caused by a wayward firecracker. Departments from both rural Leavenworth and Douglas counties sent mutual aid during the incident.

"It's very nice to have a good working relations with your neighbors. That certainly paid off last night," Ates said.

Powell's home at 620 Locust St. fared much better than her neighbors' home at 618 Locust St., where the fire is thought to have started on the garage roof. Little remains of the residence, where the garage and the back of the home received the most damage.

"Tonight, I'm trying to find a place to stay," Powell said Thursday.

The fire also brought down a power line, and the heat from the blaze caused an underground natural gas leak at Powell's home.

"It's totally livable, except there's no electricity or gas right now," said Belinda Rehmer, a friend of Powell's. "But the rest of the house is OK. The electric wires have melted and there's part of a tree that's been burned."

Eudora Fire Chief Randy Ates estimates the damage to both homes at $125,000, with 618 Locust St. deemed a total loss.

Powell, who has lived on Locust Street for three years, said this is the first year she has ever been concerned about fireworks going off too close to her home.

"She just noticed a lot more firework activity close to the house this year than she had noticed before," Rehmer said.

Ates said considering the time of night and the close proximity of many homes in the neighborhood, fireworks are a likely cause.

"We found a considerable amount of fireworks debris in and around the particular block," Ates said. "It would have been very easy for something to ignite the fire."

Powell's next-door neighbors at 618 Locust St., who declined to be interviewed, were already in bed when smoke alarms alerted them to the fire.

"They were already out when we arrived," Ates said. "It's a true case that smoke alarms save lives."

Eudora does not have a city ordinance banning the use of fireworks within its city limits. Ates does not think an ordinance and its penalties could have prevented what happened.

"I don't think an ordinance would solve the problem," Ates said. "Better education of the public -- I think that would be the best move.

The Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross helped relocate families displaced by the gas leak. Eudora City Hall was initially used as a shelter.

"As soon as (Eudora City Administrator Cheryl Beatty) said children were involved, we felt it would be more comfortable for the kids if we provided a hotel room instead of cots in a city hall building," Executive Director of the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross Jane Blocher said.

The organization also provided clothing and financial assistance for the residents of 618 Locust St., she said.

---- Patrick Cady contributed to this report.

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