Hutchinson fire officers issue warning after 5 structure fires in 32 hours

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- While working out at their Hutchinson home Wednesday night, Josh Felix and his family say they smelled sulfur.

Josh's wife looked out at their balcony and saw it was in flames.

"It put things in perspective," Felix said. "You are sitting there on a normal night and then all of a sudden the house can be almost gone and your family in trouble."

The fire at the Felix's home was the fifth fire in Hutchinson in a 32-hour period that began Tuesday at noon and extended through Wednesday night.

Hutchinson Fire Department officers say none of the fires are related. None of them were caused by arson. Instead, they say it is simply a string of unfortunate accidents.

"In this day and age that we are in, it is very rare to have that many structure fires that close together," Deputy Chief Doug Hanen said.

The fires have, thankfully, been split almost evenly on different shifts, Hanen said. He says they've been far enough apart not to put a strain on resources. But there's an emotional strain that does come into play.

"The word around today is 'hopefully, the streak has been broken.' None of us what to see anyone's property get damaged," Hanen said.

The first fire began Tuesday around noon. It was a small garage fire in the 1500 block of E. 11th. Hanen says the cause appears to be careless smoking. The fire caused about $10,000 in damage.

Just a few hours later, a fire began in the 1500 block of E. 3rd. The damage was limited, about $5,000. Hanen says the attic fire was likely caused by an electrical failure.

The most devastating of the fires came early Wednesday morning around 1 a.m. The fire in the 1400 block of E. 2nd caused significant damage. The home did not have any gas service and those living there were using propane heaters inside for warmth. Hanen says that was likely the cause of the fire.

Wednesday morning around 9:45 a.m., the fire department then responded to the 100 block of N. Main Street at the landmark Wiley Building. There was limited damage. The fire most likely began when sparks from the saws that construction crews were using in the building ignited the old wood construction in a chute, Hanen said.

Finally, Wednesday night around 6:45 p.m., crews responded to a fire at the Felix's home in the 1400 block of N. Jefferson St. That fire began on the outside of the home. Investigators are still working to determine if a faulty hot tub next door or careless smoking caused that fire.

Fire officers tried to find the silver lining Thursday.

"The one good thing about all this, is that no one has been injured in any of these fires and that's what it is all about: to make sure people are safe and their homes are safe," Hanen said.

Hanen issued a warning Thursday given the unusually high number of structure fires in such a short period of time.

He says even though it's cold, people should not heat their homes with ovens or stoves.

"That can produce Carbon Monoxide and that gets us into even another problem," Hanen said.

Secondly, he urges people to clear brush, debris, and trash away from their homes. With the cold weather, much of that has blown up against the sides of houses. He says removing that material could help prevent a spark from igniting that debris and causing a home to catch fire.

Finally, he says to be especially careful when throwing out fireplace ashes and cigarette ashes. He says the department has responded to a number of fires, especially in rural areas, in which those ashes had been thrown out a week before and had continued to smolder, eventually turning into a fire.

"The more you can do around your house to protect your house, the better off you'll be when that event does occur," Hanen said.

Much like the firefighters, the Felix family says that's all they can do: deal with what comes their way while preparing for the future.

"It's a lot to take in all at once," Josh Felix said. "All we can do is push forward and try to get on with it."

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