When David Morantz saw a picture of a familiar building burning on Twitter, he saw a piece of family history going up in smoke.
The 41-year-old went to a friend’s office on the 12th floor of a building near Crown Center to see the smoke and flames for himself.
“It was very emotional,” Morantz said.
What he and others across the Kansas City area saw were firefighters battling a three-alarm fire at a three-story warehouse — located at the address of Friday’s Only Furniture Outlet — on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon.
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Karl Petersen of Olathe said he was going southbound toward QuikTrip when he noticed the fire beginning to grow.
“I saw a quick flash of flames and thought, ‘What was that?’ I saw flames shooting out of the building,” Petersen said.
Petersen said he pulled into a nearby parking lot and dialed 911.
“It was raging very, very quickly and it shot up real fast,” he said. “Whatever was in there, it’s not in there now; it set that building up very, very fast.”
Drivers on Interstate 35 — and as far away as Olathe and Kansas City International Airport — could see the thick, black smoke at 2915 Southwest Blvd. from miles away. Arriving firefighters reported seeing heavy fire coming from the third floor of the building.
Fire commanders said they were taking a defensive mode. At one point, firefighters expanded the collapse zone to 150 feet around the building.
Rick Jones, vice president of Forrest T. Jones & Co., said he was turning onto Southwest Trafficway when he saw the blaze.
“The fire was just simply incredible, being right in front of you,” said Jones, whose office is at the top of the hill near 31st Street and Broadway Boulevard. “You could see the roof was completely engulfed in flames.”
His first thought was for the safety of the people in the area. He hoped no one was inside the burning building. From where he was, he said he could feel the heat coming from the fire — it was very intense.
“That is a complete catastrophe,” said Jones. “It was pretty incredible — just simply stunning to see.”
Between 90 and 100 firefighters battled the blaze, Kansas City Fire Department officials said. Chief Paul Berardi said the fire was called in by multiple people about 2:35 p.m.
When the Fire Department arrived, he said, flames were visible on the third floor of the building and soon breached the roof.
Firefighters did not enter the building, and no one was thought to be inside, Berardi said.
Although he was concerned about the fire spreading to other buildings at the peak of the blaze, the spread did not materialize.
The chief said he expected the building to be razed.
He called the blaze “a tough fight.”
Deputy Chief Todd Ackerson said the fire was under control about 6:15 p.m.
For Morantz, the sight was emotional and sad. His great-grandfather, Earl Tranin, has started a paper supply company in the same building shortly after World War II, and the Paper Supply Company became a family business for decades before it was sold to new owners in the 1990s.
Morantz spent his summers throughout high school working in the building. He remembers it as dusty and hot, with no air-conditioning. Still, the job was exciting.
“It was a fun place for a high school kid to work,” Morantz said. “You got to roam around a huge warehouse.”
Yet, he also remembers concerns about fire in those days. The building was old, and made of wood. As a paper company, his family had obvious reason to be concerned about fire.
“It had a pretty high-level fire-suppression system at least in the ’90s when I worked there,” Morantz said.
Don Hampton, who was working at the nearby Blvd Nights, walked outside and saw the smoke. At first, he couldn’t tell where the smoke was coming from. Soon, he realized it was coming from the furniture store.
“It looks like they are letting it burn itself out,” he said. “All that’s going to be left is brick.”
At one point, the flames were blocking out the sun, he said.
During the firefight, weather radar picked up the black-gray smoke from the fire.
Ambulances were on standby, although no injuries were initially reported.
Emergency officials urged motorists to avoid Southwest Boulevard near Schutte Lumber.
The owner of the store was talking to fire officials near the scene.
Star intern Shane Sanderson contributed to this report.