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Archive for Thursday, February 24, 1994

FIREFIGHTERS UNABLE TO SAVE HOME

February 24, 1994

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Beset by cold and a limited water supply, firefighters were unable to save a rural Lawrence home that caught fire Wednesday evening.

A raging fire that twice depleted firefighters' water supply destroyed a rural Lawrence residence on Wednesday.

Wakarusa Township firefighters were dispatched to the residence of Jes and Donna Santaularia at 7:11 p.m. Wednesday after a motorist on U.S. Highway 59 reported the fire over a cellular phone.

Louie McElhaney, Wakarusa Township fire chief, said the first trucks arrived at 7:16 p.m.

"By the time we got there, the fire had already ventilated itself to the outside of the house," he said. "It'd gotten quite a head start on us."

Supplied with 2,800 gallons of water, 12 Wakarusa firefighters went to the Oakwood Estates residence, about two miles south of Lawrence, and just west of Highway 59. At 7:22 p.m., the township department asked Lawrence firefighters to bring more water to the scene.

Lawrence Fire Chief Jim McSwain said his department sent a 1,500-gallon tanker and a pumper containing 500 gallons to the scene. Later, the Lawrence tanker was sent to the nearest hydrant -- near 33rd and Iowa -- for a refill.

A nearby pond containing thousands of gallons was of no use to firefighters, McElhaney said. Drawing water from a pond is a risky maneuver, he said, because trucks must get close to the water and can easily get stuck.

Hindered by the limited water supply and temperatures in the teens, firefighters declared the blaze out of control within an hour after they arrived. The residence, valued on a Douglas County sheriff's report at $225,000, was destroyed.

Sheriff's Lt. Mike Suitt said today that investigators had been unable to determine what sparked the fire but did not believe it was intentionally set.

"We don't have any reason to believe it's anything but accidental at this point," he said. "We don't suspect arson."

Donna Santaularia told sheriff's officers that she and her children left the residence at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and returned shortly after the blaze was discovered. She said her husband had left at 5 a.m. Wednesday to fly to Denver and hadn't returned when the fire started.

A housekeeper, Sharon Faulkner, told officers that she had been at the house from 9:10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. but could not remember doing anything that would have sparked the fire.

Faulkner said she did not do any cooking or ironing, and she shut off a clothes dryer that was running when she arrived. Sheriff's officers reported that no one who had been in the house Wednesday was a smoker.

Officials said the Santaularia family stayed at a relative's house overnight.

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