Archive for Monday, May 1, 2006

Five-unit house destroyed in fire

May 1, 2006


A fire early Sunday in the historic Old West Lawrence neighborhood destroyed a home and scattered the lives of those living there.

The blaze began just minutes before 3 a.m. when residents living on the lower floors of the five-unit house at 838 La. reported smoke creeping from the basement.

When other residents arrived at their home within the hour, the house was gone.

"It's a surreal experience," said Glenn Baughman, who arrived about 4 a.m. to his upstairs apartment engulfed in flames. "You can't really go crazy. You can't really go anything."

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Chief Mark Bradford said 28 firefighters were needed to extinguish the fire, with at least two being blown back when fumes leaking from the basement exploded near the front of the house.

"It caught them off guard," Bradford said of the explosion.

No residents or firefighters were injured in the fire. But Bradford said the exploding fumes and the strong scent of gasoline streaming from the basement caused serious concern.

Hazardous materials teams from Lawrence and Olathe spent hours at the home Sunday draining water that had accumulated in the basement.

"We wanted to make sure we were disposing of that water correctly," Bradford said.

The investigation into the cause of the fire will start in earnest today, he said.

As they sorted through the blackened wood and rubble that filled the house, investigators couldn't put a price on the damage. It was difficult to tell what belongings were actually in the home, save a scorched couch that sat smoldering on the sidewalk outside.

"Obviously, it's totally destroyed," Bradford said.

But as the sun broke through for the first time in days Sunday, life seemed to get better for one of the home's tenants.

Jim Luhning, a Pizza Hut delivery driver who lived in one of the lower-level apartments, got home from a birthday party about 3 a.m., only to sit for the next hour watching everything he owned burn.

His clothes. Long-owned family photographs. The money he had diligently stashed away so he could attend his son's wedding in Washington state next month.

"I guess it was just my turn," Luhning said.

But suddenly, Red Cross officials arrived with help - for Luhning and all of the tenants.

They handed out clothing and food vouchers, and gave residents who had nowhere to go free hotel stays for a few nights.

838 Louisiana

Luhning didn't need the hotel stay - he has plenty of friends in Lawrence. The clothing and food will help, certainly. But nothing could replace the hundreds of dollars he kept saved in his room.

Nothing could replace seeing his son get married.

But Sunday afternoon, a friend told firefighters about the money. It didn't seem likely it would still be there, but they checked anyway.

When Luhning arrived back at the house, a firefighter walked to him, money in hand.

Luhning and fire officials wrung the money out, and water poured from it. But it was all there, unfazed by the flames.

And for the first time since early Sunday, Luhning's eyes lit up bright. He hugged his friends and thanked the firefighters, relieved that he wouldn't have to ask his boy for the money to come see him.

"I didn't want him to have to pay for my ticket," he said.


Sigmund 12 years ago

I thought current law forbid more than 2 unrelated people living together in area zoned for single family.

DaREEKKU 12 years ago

The house was zoned multi family. It was split up into apartments.

Todd 12 years ago

Isn't 838 La. Old West Lawrence and not Oread?

tlinderflohman 12 years ago

The area in question is zoned C-5, commercial and other uses. Multi family buildings are allowed.

Dani Davey 12 years ago

They don't know how the fire started but are pretty sure that it was related to gas lines in some way. They've already closed the two gas stations closest to the area and have had to evacuate the law firm next door because of strong gas fumes.

Kookamooka 12 years ago

A friend of mine lived in a rental unit, a duplex, at 8th and Mississippi (one block up I think) and it smelled like gas. We had it checked out and the landlord had to replace the furnace. It was fortunate at the time because the woman who lived next door had been having all sorts of health problems, including bad migrains. She moved out immediately. That was a few years ago, but I wonder if other people in that area have problems. The OWL neighborhood association should get on this. I smell a class action law suit.

oneofmany 12 years ago

We are talking about GASOLINE, not natural gas.

pmheart6 12 years ago

I can not be quoted on this as fact, but someone had said that the structure may have used baloon framing. or

I guess it was used frequently in Lawrence at the time the house was built.

Marion even some commercial structures can still get away with old code by being grandfathered in, but changes can be forced. You see it a lot in earthquake zones. Here you rarely see central fire alarms added after the fact, but it is required on new construction.

Given the tight packing of residents into structures like this it may be approperate to at least centralize these things within the older structures as well. We were lucky here that no one was injured, but what about next time. I am tempted to say that any structure housing residents such as this should require safety features found in modern code. If baloon framing was popular in this era, then at least rentals should be required to have fire stops installed--Either 2x4's or expanding foam, and gas lines inspected and capped, or initaled disclosure on the lease which no one reads completely.

maconrl 12 years ago

I am Jim luhning's son the one getting married. I would like to thank the Red Cross and everyone the helped my dad the night of the fire and the days to follow. Its good to know that we have such great friends in Lawrence.

Todd 12 years ago

Jeez, just wait fot the investigation. Also, the house is pretty close to a gas station so the underground gas tanks could be leaking. Or some dumbarse stored gasoline thinking there would be fuel shortage soon. Who knows? Step off your jump-to-conclusions-mat and wait for the results of the fire investigation.

Dani Davey 12 years ago

Gasoline, not natural gas. They are currently investigating the source.

Jayhawk226 12 years ago

I had driven by there today on my way back from class on campus...I was unaware of the fire until I saw the damage. There was still a VERY strong scent of gas around Tennessee.

badger 12 years ago

Dani said:

"They don't know how the fire started but are pretty sure that it was related to gas lines in some way. They've already closed the two gas stations closest to the area and have had to evacuate the law firm next door because of strong gas fumes."

Um, gas stations don't get gas from gas lines. They get it from big trucks. The only 'lines' involved in gasoline would run from the tank to the pump itself, and not leave the gas station property.

As Todd pointed out, a leak in one of the underground storage tanks is possible, but I'd probably be looking at other sources.

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