200 block of Highway 40
Homeowners Jesse and Debbie Robbs and their 21-year-old son, Jason, spent Thursday afternoon sifting through old family photos — the only items salvaged after a blaze destroyed their rural home.
“I remember the days when mom used to wake us up and make French toast every morning before pre-school,” said Jason.
Fire and emergency crews from the city of Lawrence and Lecompton, Wakarusa and Kanwaka fire departments fought Thursday morning to save the house on U.S. Highway 40 just east of the Shawnee-Douglas county lines. But officials said high winds caused flames to spread quickly, destroying the house that sits on a 5-acre tract southwest of Lecompton.
Investigators are still working to determine what caused the fire but they believe it started in the garage.
Debbie Robbs was home from her job as a Shawnee Heights school district counselor when she smelled the smoke.
“At first, I just thought neighbors were burning fields or something but I went around the house and when I went into the garage I saw flames coming from the refrigerator,” she said.
Robbs called 911 and then her husband, Jesse, who rushed home from his job, where he is a fire prevention inspector.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” said the patriarch. “I’m used to helping others with fire situations.”
The couple raised five children in the home and has a lifetime of memories. Their son Jesse had a twin who died in 2008 and their youngest daughter just gave birth to her second son last Monday.
“The house went up in flames but our memories will always be with us,” said Jesse.
The family said they will likely rebuild on the same site.
They say church members in Topeka and neighbors have already offered support.
Officials with the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross said they will provide hotel, lodging, food and clothing for the family.