The fire that destroyed an Overland Park apartment tower and spread to 22 nearby houses Monday broke out when the under-construction building was at its “most vulnerable,” the fire chief said Tuesday.
Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said that investigators are now working to determine what caused the devastating blaze that broke out Monday afternoon at the CityPlace development at College Boulevard and Nieman Road.
Dehner said at a late Tuesday morning media briefing that investigators have theories about the cause of fire but are not yet ready to discuss them.
Officials do not think the fire was intentionally set.
Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Kansas fire marshal’s office and other Johnson County fire departments will be assisting Overland Park investigators at the CityPlace development.
A task force of about 40 investigators met for a briefing Tuesday morning before heading out to inspect the damage at CityPlace as well as at all of the houses damaged.
“Yesterday’s CityPlace fire is undoubtedly the largest fire-related incident in Overland Park history,” Overland Park Fire Department spokesman Jason Rhodes said.
The fire destroyed one four-story apartment building and damaged another.
Dehner said officials are now assessing if the damaged apartment building, which was also under construction, can be salvaged or will have to be demolished.
Embers that drifted from the original fire, as well as the intense heat it generated, damaged at least 22 homes, including about eight nearby that had significant damage or were destroyed.
When the fire broke out about 3:30 p.m. Monday, pretty steady winds were blowing from the north between 10 to 15 mph.
“That likely played a factor in helping that fire spread, especially to the properties to the south,” said Dan Hawblitzel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill. “On top of that, we were quite warm in the afternoon.”
Smoke by the fire was picked up on weather radar.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, but officials said there were no serious injuries.
Dehner said the No. 1 goal Tuesday was to help residents get into their damaged homes to retrieve personal items and to assist them with whatever they need.
The fire chief said some people may be out of their homes for months because of the extent of the damage.
Overland Park police have set up a perimeter around the neighborhood where homes were damaged and were only allowing residents into the area.
Block Real Estate, the CityPlace developer, was making arrangements for displaced residents, setting up a CityPlace Command Center in the lobby of Drury Inn & Suites, 10963 Metcalf Ave. The developer was putting up residents at the Drury Inn and Embassy Suites nearby.
Residents could also go to Christ Lutheran Church at 117th Street and Nieman Road for support.
Representatives from the American Red Cross were also at the church Tuesday. A Red Cross spokeswoman said they are currently speaking with residents and assessing their needs.
Anyone whose house may have been damaged is asked to call the Overland Park Fire Department at 913-888-6066.