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Archive for Sunday, September 7, 1997

BOY DIES IN LAWRENCE FIRE

September 7, 1997

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A 5-year-old boy died in a house fire early Saturday morning in North Lawrence, despite attempts to get him out of the house.

A 5-year-old boy died when fire swept through a North Lawrence home early Saturday morning, and his mother remains in critical condition after she ran into the burning house to try to save him.

Tommy Munger's body was found near a door on the west side of the two-story house at 509 North St. Neighbors said Tommy, his two brothers and his sister were sleeping in the first-floor living room next to their parents' bedroom when the fire was reported at 6:14 a.m. Saturday.

An autopsy was being conducted Saturday night to determine how Tommy died.

Fire investigators talked to family members and reconstructed the living room as it was before the fire to determine what caused the blaze. Jerry Karr, a fire battalion chief with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, said a cause hadn't been determined by Saturday night, but there was nothing to indicate it was a suspicious fire, he said.

"We haven't made a determination on the cause yet," Karr said Saturday afternoon. "We are keeping our eyes wide open."

Fire officials estimate the fire caused $80,000 to $100,000 in damage.

Arthur and Rosemary Munger have lived in the house with their four children -- Tommy, Arthur, also known as A.J., a third-grader, Justin, a second-grader, and Elizabeth, 4 -- for less than two years, said the house's owner, John Lowther.

Rosemary Munger was in critical condition at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Her sister, Della Elkins, who was taking care of the Mungers' children Saturday, said Rosemary suffered first- and second-degree burns and smoke inhalation after running into the burning house to try to rescue Tommy.

Lowther and his wife, Natalya, live in the house directly north of the Munger residence. Ed Hoover, who lives with the Lowthers, ran to the front of the Mungers' house with a flashlight and attempted to enter the front room where Tommy was sleeping.

"I couldn't see anything but a blanket and some toys and stuff," Hoover said.

"It was getting too hot," he said. "We said, 'We've done what we can,' and we knew it was getting to the point where it would be foolish to try. There was thick black smoke and heat coming through the door."

In less than a minute, the entire downstairs was engulfed in flames, Hoover said.

The Lowthers said the children had apparently fallen asleep in the downstairs room watching television. Their bedrooms are upstairs.

The fire spread through all areas of the house, and firefighters used shovels to scrape about 6 inches of debris from the living room floor later in the day. A couch, two chairs and end tables sat on the front lawn behind yellow warning tape. Fire investigators continued working at the scene late Saturday night.

"There's a lot of sifting, going through the debris on the floor," Karr said. "We try to be very thorough in our investigations, and we try to match the cause and location with what we find out during interviews."

Investigators talked to family members at the KU Medical Center Saturday afternoon.

A total of 19 fire and medical personnel responded to the fire, which had spread to the second floor by the time they arrived. The fire crews were forced to control the fire in the front living room before searching for Tommy, according to fire and medical department.

A.J., Justin and Elizabeth were checked by medical crews at the scene, and their parents were taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Rosemary Munger was later taken to KU Medical Center by helicopter. Arthur Munger was treated at LMH.

Tommy's death brings the number of people killed in Lawrence fires this year to four. Bruce Kloss and Charles Shoemaker Jr. both died in a Jan. 25 fire at the Sundance Apartments, 1407 W. Seventh, and KU student Daniel J. Hamman died in June of injuries from an apartment fire at 1214 Tenn.

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