Four apartments in a Eudora apartment complex were destroyed by a blaze that was sparked when a Zippo lighter fell beneath 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 building is a total loss, Police Chief Greg Dahlem said.
“The two (units) on the south end were completely destroyed by the fire, the two on the north end sustained substantial water and fire damage inside,” he added.
Eudora Fire Chief Randy Ates said a strong breeze hampered firefighters' efforts and prolonged the fire, which shot through the roof and could initially be seen from 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 on scene about 12:30 Wednesday morning. A wheelchair-bound man and his girlfriend occupied one destroyed apartment, and an elderly woman lived in the other. The man's dog and the woman's cat were unaccounted for.
Ates said a collapsed roof in one apartment made it difficult to douse remaining hot spots, which were still a problem at 3:30 a.m.
Power was restored to the complex about 2:15, but alarm bells rang for more than an hour after that. Residents, mostly elderly 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 lit a cigarette and accidentally dropped the Zippo lighter underneath his couch.
“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,” he said.
When he was unable to find the lighter he went to bed. Moments later he smelled smoke and noticed that the couch was on fire.
He called 911 before helping his girlfriend and other residents get out of the building.
Resident Phillip Curley said he was awakened by emergency responders about 1:15 a.m. He said this is the third fire at the complex he could remember since he moved there in 2001.
Fire departments from the City of Eudora, Eudora Township, Wakarusa Township and Reno Township responded to the fire, as did a medic crew from Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.
The Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting two families that were displaced by the fire.