Roof collapses, businesses destroyed in fire at office building in North Kansas City

Thick smoke and flames engulfed an office building that housed more than a dozen businesses Tuesday afternoon in North Kansas City.

Fire crews were initially called at 12:30 p.m. to a report of smoke on a roof-top deck of the 21,000-square-foot Pioneer Building, in the 1900 block of Swift Street. The roof eventually collapsed, and more than eight hours later embers from the fire still burned.

"There are still units on scene," said Joe Reynolds, a North Kansas City fire battalion chief, at about 8:45 p.m. But, he added, "it's under control at this time."

The deck, which is an employee recreation area, is where the fire started, said fire Chief Dave Hargis.

"We extinguished the fire on the exterior of the building and realized that it got into a void space," Hargis said. "These old buildings often have two or three different ceilings and there are void spaces in there. The fire traveled into a void space that we were unable to access through a roof or from the second story of the building."

Strong winds pushed the fire through an attic. The windy conditions forced crews to fight the blaze from the outside.

No civilians or firefighters were reported injured as of Tuesday evening.

Firefighters evacuated the two-story structure because of deteriorating conditions from thick black smoke. Several buildings in the surrounding area also were evacuated as a safety precaution.

The fire's intense heat stretched across the street onto a large gathering of onlookers who watched fire crews trying put out the blaze. Thick flames and heavy dark gray smoke poured from the building.

Firefighters established a collapse zone around the building.

The office-style building houses 13 businesses, and several additional businesses in the surrounding area were evacuated as a safety precaution, said Kim Nakahodo, North Kansas City assistant city administrator.

The property manager, who himself was evacuated from his office in a nearby building, plans to send Nakahodo the names of the 13 businesses on Wednesday, she said.

The corporate offices of Jazz, a Louisiana Kitchen restaurants are located in the building, according to Vic Allred.

Allred owns five of the restaurants, with three in the Kansas City area. He said payroll records and about $5,000 worth of blank checks were lost in the fire.

Buying new checks is now the No. 1 priority for the business, Allred said, "so we can get people paid." The day-to-day operation of the restaurants will not be affected.

A police and firefighter uniform and supply business was located on the first floor.

And insurance and law offices also are located in the building, according to Fox4 News.

When the building was built in the early 1900s, it was part of the beginning of the development of North Kansas City's central business district, according to historic records.

Kelley and Karson Hampton were working at the time at Key Company and Associates when they heard the sirens from the fire trucks. They walked outside.

"We looked up and there was black smoke coming from the ceiling," said Karson Hampton. "It all happened within 5 minutes and it just came up into flames."

Jim Chappell, owner of the nearby Chappell's Restaurant and Sports Museum, said he watched the building burn for about 45 minutes.

“It’s just taking the whole building," he said. "They just can’t get it out yet.”

Maria Piñon said she was working in the corner of the building and was unaware that it was on fire. She was told that she had to leave the building.

"I just thought it was a little minor fire alarm or whatever," she said.

When she got outside, she saw the smoke. Even then, it was coming from the back corner of the building.

"I had no idea it would travel as fast as it did," she said. "I mean there were flames everywhere. It was smelly and as the building really started to get on fire, you could really feel the heat across the street."

Firefighters from both Kansas City and North Kansas City fire departments were battling the blaze.

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar