Archive for Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fire sparked by lighter destroys apartments

November 20, 2008

Four apartments in a Eudora apartment complex were engulfed early Wednesday by a blaze that was sparked when a Zippo lighter fell under a couch.

Five agencies responded to the fire, at the one-story Pinecrest II Apartments, 924 Walnut St. No injuries were reported, but two animals are presumed dead in the fire.

“The two on the south end were completely destroyed by the fire. The two on the north end sustained substantial water and fire damage inside,” said Eudora Police Chief Greg Dahlem. The building was a total loss.

Eudora Fire Chief Randy Ates said a strong breeze hampered firefighters’ efforts and prolonged the fire, which shot through the roof and initially was seen blocks away.

“With the way the wind’s been blowing, it pushed (the fire) into the next apartment through the attic eaves,” he said.

Residents were evacuated from their homes by medics, who arrived at the scene about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Ates said a collapsed roof in one apartment made it difficult to douse remaining hot spots, which were still popping up at 3:30 a.m. As firefighters fought the blaze, residents — who included elderly and disabled people — huddled in the complex’s clubhouse, dressed in pajamas, bathrobes and blankets.

Michael Ashcraft, a resident of the apartment where the blaze began, said he accidentally dropped a Zippo lighter under the couch as he was trying to light a cigarette.

“I took my back scratcher and my fly swatter and swooped it under my couch and I couldn’t find my lighter, so I figured it was OK,” Ashcraft said, who uses a wheelchair.

He went to bed. Moments later, he smelled smoke and noticed the couch was on fire. That’s when he called 911 and helped get his girlfriend, as well as other residents in the building, to safety.

Ashcraft and his girlfriend occupied one destroyed apartment, and an elderly woman the other. Ashcraft’s dog and the woman’s cat were unaccounted for.

Firefighters from the city of Eudora, Eudora Township, Wakarusa Township and Reno Township responded to the blaze, as did a medic crew from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical. The Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting two of the families who were displaced by the fire.

— Reporter Mark Boyle contributed to this report.

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