Archive for Friday, October 7, 2005

18 injured in overnight apartment blaze

Witness says ‘it was raining pinecones of fire’

October 7, 2005, 10:44 a.m. Updated October 7, 2005, 3:37 p.m.


BULLETIN (As of 3:37 p.m.) - All but three residents of the Boardwalk Apartments have now been accounted for, according to emergency response officials.

The tally of injured persons settled at 18, according to latest report from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical. No fatalities have been reported.

There were conflicting reports earlier in the day about the number of people hurt in the blaze that destroyed the 76-unit apartment complex.

Officials said the core of the fire was still too hot this afternoon for thorough investigation of the cause. The site won't cool enough for that work to begin until Sunday, officials said.

Meanwhile, investigators have been interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence away from the fire's epicenter.

At least 15 people and perhaps as many as 25 were seen at Lawrence Memorial Hospital as a result of the early morning fire at Boardwalk Apartments in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.

The fire apparently broke out shortly after 1 a.m. (See earlier story)

By 10 a.m., according to LMH officials, 10 of 15 injured persons seen at the hospital had been treated and released. Three had been transferred to KU Med Center in Kansas City, Kan. And two remained at LMH listed in good condition.

"All the people we saw were mostly burns and broken bones," Belinda Rehmer, LMH spokesperson, said.

At a 10 a.m. briefing for reporters, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Chief Mark Bradford said 25 people had been seen at LMH and that 25 residents of the apartments were still not accounted for. He said 18 people went to LMH on their own and that seven were taken there by emergency workers. Another two people were taken by air ambulance to Kansas City, Bradford said.

There was no immediate explanation why Bradford's count of injured persons did not jibe with that of LMH officials.

Firefighters and investigators continued to comb through the rubble of the destroyed 76-unit apartment complex.

"I have no idea, if there were any fatalities," Bradford said.

Loved ones or friends of missing apartment dwellers were asked to call 832-7600.

Bradford wouldn't say if arson was suspected. Witnesses said the blaze mushroomed, totally engulfing the complex within minutes.

"This is perplexing" that a fire could damage a large building so quickly, Bradford said

Investigators from Lawrence Police Department, Kansas University Public Safety, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Kansas Fire Marshal's Office and the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were assisting in the investigation, Bradford said.

"There's a lot of interviews to be done and a large area to cover," he said.

The Red Cross' relief efforts for blaze survivors were to be moved at noon from the American Legion to First Baptist Church on Kasold.

Wendy Leedy of American Red Cross said the agency had helped as many as 50 people over night but only a handful had actually stayed at the shelter. Most left to stay with family or friends, she said.

Bradford said another briefing would be held at 3 p.m.

Jerry Wheeler, who lives in an apartment across the street from the blaze, said his cat woke him shortly after 1 a.m.

He said he saw the fire burning on a lower level of the complex in front of his home. Within minutes the building was wrapped in flames and raining fire on the neighborhood. The grass was scorched near the door of Wheeler's apartment though it was at least 150 yards from the blaze.

"It was total pandemonium," Wheeler said. "People running, screaming. It was like it was raining pinecones of fire."

Wheeler said he thought propane tanks on various barbecue grills were exploded by the heat and contributed to the speed of the fire.


6News video: Early morning report on the fire at Boardwalk Apartments, 524 Fireside Drive. Enlarge video


6News video: Late morning report on the fire at Boardwalk Apartments. Enlarge video

Conference with Interim Fire Chief Mark Bradford

Interim Fire Chief Mark Bradford talks with reporters at a mid-morning Friday news conference. Enlarge video

500 block of Fireside Drive

For more on this story, return to this site later, see the 6News reports at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunflower Broadband's channel 6 and pick up a copy of Saturday's Journal-World.


Dayna Lee 12 years, 3 months ago

To the best of my knowledge the trained fire departments have to take each incident as a learning experience. My dad lost everything that he owned except his car, his shoes, and the pants he had on to that fire. Please do not look at the negative. There were plenty of people that risked everything and plenty of people that lost everything to have someone like "onceinawhile" knock all their efforts. People in this town do care. We will do everything that we can, and will be there. I would like to thank the Police, Fire Department, and others that took part. I would also like to thank the Red Cross, and Walmart for their contributions. Please look through your own homes and see if you might have something extra to help these people... I know that's what I'm gonna be doing this weekend.

Dayna Lee 12 years, 3 months ago

Is there a list of residents considered "missing"? It might help to get these people found. Also, thanks to everyone that helped or is helping these people.

HUB 12 years, 3 months ago

I am certain the police are all over that.

onceinawhile 12 years, 3 months ago

As a witness to this horrific event for hours last night, and seeing as one of my loved ones was lucky enough to escape this fire, there are some things that need to be brought up concerning this situation that a lot of people aren't learning.

The person I know to have escaped from their burning apartment last night has since told me disturbing details about the escape process.

First of all, they did not hear ANY smoke detectors going off. The only reason my loved one woke up last night and was able to escape was because they were woke up by screams coming from the 3rd floor.

When he was finally able to comprehend the situation (he had no idea what was going on for practically 5 minutes, as no firefighters were yelling "Fire!" or banging on his door), it was almost too late. With barely any time to get ready, he grabbed as much as he could and ran out.

Not only did no firefighters yell or bang on his door to warn him of what was going on, but when he ran out of this burning building (fire had, by this time, caught on to almost EVERY apartment around him), he only saw random people and firefighters standing there, just watching the fire and watching him come out. NO firefighters asked him if he was okay, asked him how he was, or if there were any other people in his apartment. The only reason he spoke to ANYONE last night was when he took the initiative to speak up first.

Once he was able to speak to a couple of the managers at Boardwalk Apartments, no answers were given to his concerns. Instead, it was brought up that "the building was made almost completely of wood" and that "the entire top of the building is made out of rubber." Apparently they have no clear caring or comprehension of how unsafe their apartments are.

What is ultimately devastating about this is that if my loved one had been able to sleep through the noise for a mere 10 more minutes, he may not be alive today.

What I also don't understand is how firefighters, wearing protective gear, helmets, and proper clothing for fires, were not able to make sure people were alive, in their apartments, or even AWARE of what was going on.

Something went seriously wrong last night. I believe the Lawrence Fire Department needs to review and critically analyze their procedures in cases like these.

indythinker 12 years, 3 months ago

I was not there to witness this event. However, I do have an excellent understanding of how the incident command system works on a fire scene. Just by reading the description of eyewitnesses, I would imagine that this fire had to be initally attacked defensively rather than offensively. A fire chief will never endanger the lives of his firefighters when structural collapse is iminent or a very low chance for viable victims (rescue vs. recovery and risk vs. reward0. "Onceinawhile" wants a critical analysis of the procedures??? Here they are: 1. Life safety 2. Incident stabilization 3. Property conservation. Those do not change in ANY fire department. Do you kill 2 firefighters who are told to go to the top floor of an inferno just to see if someone is or isn't in a burning apartment and the roof collapses? In this situation, it would seem that getting a knockdown on the fire would be more condusive to saving lives and stabilizing the incident than risking resources going door to door. As well, the firefighters "standing around" were likely command officers, safety officers and pumper operators. Where exactly would "onceinawhile" like them to be and what, according to you, should they be doing??? It is very unfortunate that your friend/relative lost his home. However, the FD is not to blame and I am quite certain that they did everything within their power to gain control of a chaotic situation. As well, I can assure you that this incident will be well studied and a critical incident analysis will be done internally.

onceinawhile 12 years, 3 months ago

I would also like to take the time to mention that the community, American Red Cross, University of Kansas, and others have been incredibily supportive. It's amazing to see how many people have stepped up and wanted to volunteer/contribute. Even KU has already gotten on top of providing housing and books for their students that survived the fire. I do not mean to sound unthankful; there are just a lot of parts of the situation that ended up being frustrating.

pity2bu 12 years, 3 months ago

onceinawhile, everything seems to be frustrating when you or a very good friend are on the receiving end. believe me your friend only saw a small tunnel vision of activities that early morning and could not see the whole picture. there is nothing wrong in how the incident was handled. bigger department, same outcome, bigger trucks, same outcome, more people knocking, same outcome, you in charge of the fire scene, same outcome. just be thankful that your friend was not seriously hurt and more people didn't become fatalities of such an early morning fire.

and don't forget, GOD is in charge, not you, not I and not the rescuers.

cubbies23 12 years, 3 months ago

First of all, I'm going to agree with everyting that indythinker has said, second of all there aren't any bigger trucks. Furthermore you're not going to send men into a structure that is collapsing! It's not like the movies where they send men into a fire when the structure is collapsing so they can play hero and have a dramatic ending. it doesn't happen like that, people die that way. From what I've heard the incident command on this fire was done v. well. It was fully involved from arrival.

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