Matt Newman knew something wasn’t right when he opened the door to his apartment early Tuesday after arriving home from his assembly-line job.
“It had a fogginess to it,” said Newman, who got home about 3:40 a.m.
“When I entered further, I could smell the smoke so I knew something was burning. I didn’t know what. There was a lot of smoke in the bedrooms and the bathroom.”
When he raced through the breezeway to the front of the 22-unit building, he saw flames in a first-floor apartment. A person inside appeared to be trying to put out the fire, Newman said.
As Newman waited for his 911 call to go through, he yelled at the neighbor to get everybody out. A friend, Michael Lynch, who had popped over to hang out with Newman, pulled the fire alarm and started knocking on doors.
The fire killed the resident in the apartment where the fire started. It injured another person and destroyed multiple units of the three-story building in the Jefferson Park Apartments complex at 1230 Missouri Court, near Missouri 291.
Fire officials later praised “the quick actions” of those who alerted residents. They also said the fire will be ruled as accidental, and that the state fire marshal’s investigation could not rule out electrical issues.
Lynch said the smoke from the fire made things really difficult to see.
“It was like a black cloud everywhere,” he said.
“Everything on the side of fire, I had to avoid completely. I couldn’t knock on any of those doors because I couldn’t see where I was going … I was just hoping nobody was there.”
Residents gathered in a parking lot in front of the building and watched as the fire consumed their apartments.
“You could see it catch the patio above it (the first-floor apartment) on fire and after that you could see flames inside the next unit,” Lynch said. “It just kept going … Once the attic caught on fire, it seemed like the whole building started going.”
Liberty firefighters and police finished evacuating the building and called for multiple ambulances out of concern that many sleeping residents could be trapped, Fire Chief Mike Snider said.
“Being this happened so early in the morning, we had to assume all residents were home,” Snider said. “That said, they were not just home, they were probably sleeping.”
Firefighters searched room by room for any possible victims. They also worked with the apartment managers to account for all 34 residents, Snider said.
Hours later, Bruce Van Fleet, who lived on the third floor, recalled that he hadn’t noticed anything when he walked his dog after returning home from work about 3:15 a.m.
“I was getting ready to take a shower and I heard pounding on the door,” Van Fleet said. At the door, a police officer told him to get out immediately because there was a fire.
“I thought it was probably a false alarm,” he said. “I hadn’t seen or heard anything.”
Outside, though, Van Fleet said he saw a chaotic scene as firefighters rushed in and out of the building.
One person who lived on the third floor was taken to a hospital for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation.
Firefighters found the dead person inside the first-floor apartment where the fire started, Snider said. The person’s identity was being withheld until family could be notified.
Fire crews from Kansas City, Fort Osage and Kearney helped battle the two-alarm blaze. The Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted displaced residents.
The apartment building sustained extensive fire and smoke damage. Fire consumed much of the roof.
“It’s very unfortunate that this had to happen and somebody had to lose their life,” Newman said. “It’s just very unexpected. This makes you realize things can change really fast … It’s overwhelming — to say the least.”