A large brush and grass fire west of Langston Hughes School threatened several homes Thursday and led to an order for residents in the area to evacuate.
The fire began about 10:25 a.m. Thursday, east of Kansas Highway 10 near the area where Bob Billings Parkway dead-ends, according to Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley.
Division Chief Eve Tolefree, a Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical spokeswoman, said the fire was contained around 12:45 p.m., and residents were then allowed back into their homes.
Thursday evening, Tolefree reported that a squirrel caused the fire. It somehow caused a spark from a power line, which ignited the vegetation beneath the line.
No injuries or damage to homes were reported.
Witnesses reported that the fire had flames shooting as high as some tall trees in the area, 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 of the dry kindling in the area to prevent the fire from spreading.
The fire had also threatened Langston Hughes School, McKinley said. The school is closed for the summer, and no programs were under way in that building, according to Julie Boyle, the school district’s spokeswoman.
Erik Haden, building operator for Langston Hughes, was in the school 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.”
Megan Gilliland, a spokeswoman for the city of Lawrence, said the city diverted extra water to western Lawrence so that it would be available to firefighters. At the same time, she said, the city monitored water pressure in other areas of the city to ensure they did not lose pressure.
Homes in the 6200 block of Palisades Drive were evacuated, Tolefree said, though many residents weren’t home at the time of the fire. McKinley said nonessential police staff, including clerical workers, detectives and others, assisted emergency personnel with the evacuation.
Scott Reinardy, who lives on Palisades Drive, saw the fire behind his home and began hosing down his backyard, 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 also received assistance from the Olathe and Lenexa fire departments.
Crews spent the afternoon putting out hot spots in the swath of burned land that stretched from Bob Billings Parkway to just south of Palisades Drive.