A day after a fire destroyed three homes and damaged another, the Sedalia Fire Department has listed the fire’s cause as undetermined.
“Because of the complexity of the house, we know the origin of the fire but we can’t determine the cause of the actual fire,” said Battalion Chief Matt Irwin, who was the incident commander for Thursday’s fire in the 500 block of West Fourth Street.
Irwin said the fire started in the northwest front apartment and the entire incident took about seven hours to put out. Three SFD engines, two ladder trucks, two Pettis County Fire District engines and four PCFD tankers, along with about 50 personnel were used to battle the blaze. He added that keeping the investigation open is up to Deputy Chief Greg Harrell, but that all properties have been released back to the property owners.
There were no civilian injuries reported Thursday. Two firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries and released back to fire operations, Irwin said.
The four-structure fire destroyed three residence, while the fourth had “minor to moderate smoke and heat damage,” Irwin said. Two additional residences across the street had minor smoke damage due to smoke getting inside the homes.
SFD responded to a call of smoke coming from the roof of a residence on Fourth Street near Missouri Avenue around 11 a.m. Thanksgiving day. By the time crews were on scene, heavy smoke was coming out of the residence and soon flames engulfed the entire structure. As it burned, Thursday’s high winds spread the fire to the neighboring structures on either side of the residence just before noon. Eventually, it spread to a fourth house across the street.
PCFD was called in for mutual aid shortly after the fire began to relieve SFD personnel and to utilize the district’s tankers to supplement the water SFD was getting from city hydrants. Crews were using hydrants as far as Main Street and Broadway Boulevard.
Harrell told the Democrat on the scene Thursday he had “never seen anything like this in my career. You see some bad fires, but not four houses, with three totally gone.”
Community members stepped up to help feed the firefighters on scene, and members of the Red Cross arrived as fire crews were cleaning up the scene Thursday afternoon to assist the affected families.
“We are helping right now four families we’ve identified that need immediate emergency needs,” said Teri Layton, Disaster Program Specialist with the Red Cross. “We’re helping them with those needs. We’ve got one more family we’re meeting with (Saturday) and helping them with immediate emergency needs.”
She added that they don’t know the extent of the affected families’ needs, as they have not heard from everyone they contacted, as of press time; she said she thought they may be recuperating from Thursday’s tragic events.
“What will happen Monday is our case workers will reach out to the families to assess their future needs and help them with the first few steps of their recovery,” Layton said.
Layton said each family is given a Client Assistance Card, which has funds loaded by the Red Cross, to use for whatever the deem as emergency needs, such as purchasing a hotel room or replacing clothes.
The Democrat has received several inquiries about how citizens can help those affected by the fire. Since exact needs have not been established, Layton said the best course of action for those wanting to help is to call the Sedalia Red Cross or call the Red Cross office in Kansas City on Monday to talk to case workers assigned to the families.
“(Interested citizens) can talk to our case workers that will be working directly with the families and then of course we’ll be reaching out to different resources in the (Sedalia) area to be able to give our families referrals,” Layton explained. “Sometimes what happens is someone in the community or an organization in the community will identify through the process that they’ll be happy to take donations for families; as far as I know that hasn’t happened yet.”
The Democrat received a report from a citizen who stated a resident of the first home to catch fire was not able to reach Sedalia dispatch through 911. Sedalia Police Chief John DeGonia said that wasn’t quite the case, although there were some issues.
“All the 911 phones lit up at one time but none of them rang. (The telecommunications officers) started going through the 911 calls and they answered the third one,” he explained. “They did all ring busy, but they started answering them. After it was over they reset each line and it worked fine. We’re having someone come down on Monday (to look at the phones). … They got to the third call, it wasn’t 15 minutes (as citizens have claimed) or anything like that. The lines were reset and are working now.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.