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Updated: Massive Overland Park Fire Was Accidental, Number Of Damaged Homes Grows To 25

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Dan Margolies
/
KCUR 89.3

Updated, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: Local and federal officials have determined the cause of a massive fire that destroyed an unfinished four-story apartment complex Monday and damaged many nearby homes to be accidental. 

"Based on an examination of the scene, interviews of witnesses and other information obtained during the investigation, investigators are confident the fire was caused by the accidental ignition of wooden building material ignited by a welder conducting hot work on the site," said Overland Park Fire Marshall Mark Sweany.

At a Tuesday evening press briefing, Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said the number of homes affected by the fire had been raised to 25. 

The original post continues below:

Overland Park fire officials raised the number of structures damaged in a massive fire that destroyed an unfinished four-story apartment complex on Monday from 17 to 22.

Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said that number could increase “as we get in there and take a look.”

The eight-alarm fire was the first in Overland Park’s history, Dehner told reporters at a makeshift staging area near where the conflagration started, just south of College Boulevard between Nieman and Switzer roads.  

Firefighting units from Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; and Lawrence helped fight the blaze, which Dehner said had been contained.

“We had a flare-up at one of the houses last night, but the crew driving the area took care of it and got it handled very quickly,” he said.

The fire, which began at an apartment complex under construction, quickly spread to nearby residences that were damaged by the fire itself, smoke or water. Dehner said police have set up a perimeter extending as far south as 119th Street and as far north as Indian Creek Parkway.

He said fire brands – airborne burning embers that were transported by strong winds – reached as far south as 119th Street, “so the collateral damage between here and 119th Street included many people’s homes that we just wanted to make sure didn’t get behind us.”

Multiple agencies are investigating the blaze. Besides the Overland Park Fire Department, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office are involved, Dehner said.

He said that there was no reason to think arson was the cause “and there’s not anything we’re working with regard to suspicious activity or anything like that.”

Three firefighters were transported to hospitals, but nobody else was injured. The firefighters have been released.

The intensity of the fire was such that Dehner said a brand new Lenexa ladder truck was blistered by the heat.

John Ham, a spokesman for ATF, said the area was being treated as a crime scene to prevent people from walking around and getting hurt, to allow investigators to work unimpeded and to protect residences within the perimeter.

He said investigators were conducting interviews with residents, construction workers and vendors who were in the area when the fire broke out around mid-afternoon Monday.

Christ Lutheran Church at 117th and Nieman roads has opened its doors to affected residents. Dehner said the residents were being instructed on “how are they going to get back into their homes” and on the process of collecting insurance.

“We’re working with them on a case by case basis to make sure that we can get them in there, get their essential, checkbooks, car keys, wallets,” he said.

Dehner said some of the affected residents have insurance but others do not.

“Those are going to be taken care of, either Block & Co. and the Red Cross, for the short-term needs before a long-term plan is established as to where they go and where they are placed in housing,” Dehner said.

The destroyed building was part of the CityPlace project being developed by Block. A second nearby building under construction was damaged, and Dehner said engineers will determine whether it can be salvaged or has to be razed.

Asked whether shake shingles were a factor in the fire’s quick spread, Dehner said that shake and composite roofing materials “lit off” but the composite ones “didn’t assist with other debris being sent to neighborhood houses.”

The Overland Park municipal code allows pitched roofs to be made of wood shingles, slate, clay and concrete tiles and composition shingles.

Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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