Evacuation lifted for homes near Langston Hughes school in west Lawrence after large grass fire

Lawrence firefighters had their hands full Thursday morning — and called in extra personnel — to fight a grass and brush fire west of Langston Hughes Elementary School. The fire threatened both the school and nearby houses. This view is looking west near the 6200 block of Palisades Drive.

Firefighters work to prevent the spread of a brush and grass fire Thursday morning that threatened Langston Hughes Elementary School and nearby homes on Palisades Drive. The firefighter in the background is wetting down roofs, while the two in the foreground are trying to create a barrier of water between the fire and the homes.

Online submitted photo of grass fire near Langston Hughes Elementary School.

Picture submitted via Twitter of grass fire threatening homes near Langston Hughes School in Lawrence on George Williams Way. Photo is from a backyard in 1000 block of Stonecreek Drive.

UPDATE, 5:45 p.m.:

A squirrel caused the fire, said Lawrence Douglas County Fire-Medical division chief Eve Tolefree. It somehow caused a spark from a power line, which ignited the vegetation the spark fell onto.

Investigators don’t yet know cost of the fire.

1:35 p.m. STORY:

A large brush and grass fire west of Langston Hughes Elementary School that threatened homes Thursday morning has been contained and the evacuation order for homes in the area has been lifted, according to Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley. No injuries or damage to homes was reported.

The fire began about 10:25 a.m. Thursday, east of Kansas Highway 10 near the area where Bob Billings Parkway dead-ends, McKinley said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Around 12:45 p.m., Division Chief Eve Tolefree, a Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical spokeswoman, said the fire had been contained and residents were being allowed back into their homes.

The fire, which rapidly moved north, also had threatened nearby Langston Hughes, McKinley said. The school is closed for the summer, and no programs were underway in that building, according to Julie Boyle, the school district’s spokeswoman.

Erik Haden, building operator for Langston Hughes, was in the building when the fire was initially reported. He ran outside of the building and saw the massive flames nearby.

About five or six people were inside the school, and he ran back inside to make sure they left the school grounds.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, this close to the building,” he said.

Haden gave credit to the emergency responders for their rapid and effective response.

“They contained it pretty quickly,” he said. “They did a heck of a job, that’s for sure. I’m just glad everybody’s safe.”

Witnesses reported that the fire initially had flames that shot as high as several nearby tall trees and spread rapidly to the north.

Firefighters positioned themselves around nearby houses and were able to prevent the fire from reaching the properties.

“It kindled pretty well with the wind,” Tolefree said, adding that fire crews tried to read the wind and the positions the dry kindling in the area to prevent the fire from spreading.

Residents of homes in the 6200 block of Palisades Drive were evacuated, Tolefree said, though many weren’t home at the time of the fire.

Scott Reinardy, who lives on Palisades Drive, saw the fire behind his home and began hosing down his back yard, as several of his neighbors were doing. Reinardy soon was told to evacuate.

“I grabbed a garbage bag and started throwing things in it,” he said.

Members of the Kanwaka, Wakarusa, Lecompton and Willow Springs township fire departments responded, and crews received assistance from the Olathe and Lenexa fire departments. Crews were helping to put out hotspots Thursday afternoon in the swath of burned land that stretched from Bob Billings Parkway to just south of Palisades Drive.

Check LJWorld.com for updates as they become available.