UPDATE: Lawnmower source of fire that destroyed 2 Derby homes

By: Phil White - Email
By: Phil White - Email
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Credit: www.twitter.com/jesse_hacker

DERBY, Kan. -- A lawnmower is the source of fire that destroyed two Derby homes on Monday.

Firefighters were called to the 1600 block of East Cresthill -- just west of Derby High School -- about 3 p.m. Monday. At the time, the wind was gusting at more than 30 miles per hour, fanning the flames and helping the fire spread rapidly.

"It's horrible," said Sharon Whitman, who lives in the neighborhood. "It's very sad."

Whitman was not prepared to return home from work and see two of her neighbors' homes destroyed by fire.

"My neighbor had called me and told me that there was a fire on the street," she said. "So, I knew that, but that's all I knew."

Investigators say a homeowner was working on a lawnmower between the homes and had spilled gas on the mower. When started it, the mower backfired and a fire started. The homeowner ran to get a garden hose, but returned to find that the fire was already engulfing his home.

The fire then spread to the home on the south, which belongs to a Wichita police detective. That officer had just returned home from his father's funeral in Hutchinson, but he and his teenage daughter were able to get out safely.

Both house fires were already out-of-control by the time firefighters arrived.

Pamela Hall who lives just two homes down from the fire said it all happened so fast. "Flames were just shooting 50 feet in the air, smoke was going everywhere", Hall said. "I head the sirens. I was scared to death."

The fire also came dangerously close to jumping the street and threatening homes on the other side, Smith said. Wind was blowing from north to south.

"Embers blew across the street and caught the yard on fire for one of the houses across the street, but, fortunately, someone saw it really quick and we were able to get it put out before it went up the side of that house," he said.

The homeowner who was there when the fire started suffered minor burns, but there were no other serious injuries.

Whitman says she is certain her entire neighborhood will reach out to help those who are not without homes.

"I'm sure they would," she said. "It's a very friendly neighborhood."

Both homes are total losses, with structural damage at $150,000 each. There is not yet an estimate on loss to the homes' contents.

A benefit fund has been set up for the owner of one of the homes, Wichita Police Detective Dwayne Diehl. Donations can be may in Detective Diehl's name at Wichita Municipal Federal Credit Union.


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