Overland Park residents describe massive fire
A massive fire Monday at an apartment building under construction at a multimillion-dollar development in Overland Park sparked blazes at numerous homes blocks away.
The eight-alarm fire broke out about 3:30 p.m. in a four-story unoccupied apartment building in the CityPlace development at the southeast corner of College Boulevard and Nieman Road confronting firefighters with “tremendous smoke and fire,” said Overland Park Fire Department spokesman Jason Rhodes.
That building was destroyed. An adjoining apartment building under construction also caught fire and was still burning hours later.
Houses to the south of the blaze began igniting from the heat and embers blown by the strong wind. Once one roof caught fire, embers jumped from roof to roof, spreading the fire. As of 8 p.m., Monday Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said 17 additional houses had been affected by the fire. He said he expected firefighters and emergency crews to remain in the area for 12 to 24 hours.
Onlooker Amanda Dresie described the CityPlace fire as “a birthday candle that keeps reigniting.”
Numerous residents were evacuated from the area.
“It’s a bit of a war zone down there frankly,” Rhodes said.
Despite the extent and intensity of the blaze, no serious injuries were reported. Three firefighters were transported to the hospital and were in fair condition, Dehner said.
Some residents described hearing an explosion before debris fell on houses and started fires. “It sounded like a bomb,” Juan Roque said.
The home of a resident on Reeder Street was destroyed. “It just went poof,” she said. Nobody was hurt.
“It was unbelievable,” neighbor Skip Willrett said.
Two hours after the fire broke out, Rhodes said, fires continued to break out at surrounding houses.
“They’re breaking out quickly,” he said. “It’s a very active situation.”
“The wind is not helping us,” he said.
One of the subsequent fires was reported as far away as 117th and Nieman Road.
Fire crews fanned out to the south of the fire site to do a methodical search for possible fires.
Rhodes said they began at 119th Street and worked their way north.
Firefighters from other Johnson County fire departments were helping. Lawrence, Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., units also responded to help Overland Park crews.
Concerned neighbors like Vivek Panchananam brought water to police officers.
The fire affected two buildings at CityPlace, according to Laurie Roberts, a spokeswoman for Block Real Estate Services, the developer of the CityPlace project.
“As of now, the fire appears to be limited to only the two buildings south of the U shaped one,” Roberts said in an email to The Star. “The initial building looks to be burned out with the second getting the full attention of the fire crews now.”
Ken Block, managing partner for Block Real Estate Services, said in a statement to The Star that the company’s main concern was for those affected by the fire, including residents whose homes caught fire and the firefighters working to put them out.
“As of this hour, we have not been informed of any injuries at the CityPlace development, but we are still attempting to contact those who were working at the site today,” Block said. “The development is under construction. We are extremely grateful to all of the fire departments who answered the call, and for their heroic efforts. Our thoughts and concerns remain with those who are directly impacted by this event.”
Ben Pond, 15, went to the scene of the fire.
“When I got here, flames were I think 20 feet in the air, pitch black smoke, tons of it, coming off,” Ben said.
Pond recalls watching fireworks shows at the site of the fire back when it was just grass fields.
The southwest corner of Highway 69 and College Boulevard remained undeveloped ground for decades after a development project proposed in 1984 fell through and never happened.
That project, called the Galleria, would have added 1.6 million square feet of development in the form of high-rise offices, hotel and retail. B.F. Saul Company of Bethesa, Md., controlled what would have been the Galleria site, which remained vacant.
Block, the managing principal of Block Real Estate Services, in 2013 proposed CityPlace. At the time, it was a $350 million project that would include more than 1,300 luxury apartments, senior housing and office buildings.
“It’s the last great piece of ground on College Boulevard,” Block said at the time. “We want to make sure the uses all fit on the site.”
By November, the price tag on the project had grown to $450 million. The project started welcoming its initial residential tenants in December.
The CityPlace building that initially caught fire was the last of four apartment buildings that comprised the Royale at CityPlace, the residential portion of the larger 90-acre development.
Rhodes said the fire was the largest he had seen in his 10-year career with the fire department.
“Nothing of this magnitude,” he said. “This is big.”