Fatal fire ruled accidental

The death toll has risen to 2 after last week's apartment fire at Chanute. Seven were injured. The Kansas Fire Marshal's office said "carelessly discarded smoking materials" were to blame.



March 26, 2024 - 1:29 PM

The Kansas Fire Marshal ruled the cause of a fire at the Cornerstone Apartments in Chanute was caused by “carelessly discarded smoking materials on an exterior balcony.” Register file photo

CHANUTE — A second person has died from the Thursday, March 21 fire that destroyed Cornerstone Apartments in Chanute.

Kalyn Jones, age 22, was found deceased at the scene and Jolavon Haymaker, age 90, passed away Saturday, March 23, with severe injuries after being airlifted to K.U. Medical Center in Kansas City, according to the Kansas Fire Marshal’s office. 

Seven other tenants were injured in the blaze and were treated and released from a local hospital, the fire marshal’s report said.

When rescue workers appeared at the scene at 1:22 a.m., they found the south half of the three-story, 24-unit apartment complex fully engulfed in flames and “residents were jumping from windows to escape,” the report stated. 

The cause of the fire was due to “carelessly discarded smoking materials on an exterior balcony of the building.”

High winds fueled the fire, sending flames up the side of the building to the eaves, through an adjacent open stairwell and into the attic, the report said.

“The fire extended into the attic before it was detected by a resident. The resident activated the fire alarm as they fled, however the fire destroyed the alarm system wiring shortly after it was activated, silencing the fire alarms.”

Though the building’s sprinkler system was activated, it was inadequate to contain such a fire, said State Fire  Marshal Mark Engholm in a phone interview with the Register Tuesday morning.

“That would have been like using a garden hose to put out a house fire,” he said.

Because the fire started on the exterior and worked itself from the attic down throughout the complex, the building’s sprinkler system “did assist in slowing the spread of the fire downwards,” Engholm said. “Sprinklers are very good at putting out fires shortly after they start and keeping them from moving beyond the room where they begin, but they are not intended for situations like this.”

Such systems also need to be in climate-controlled environments so they are not exposed to the elements. Sub-freezing weather can cause a system’s pipes to burst, causing massive water damage.

It’s for that very reason, the building’s attic was not equipped with a sprinkler system, he said.

Engholm said Cornerstone Apartments had a “no smoking,” policy, but was unaware if it applied to the building’s balconies.

Emergency responders rescued several residents of the apartment building, while requesting mutual aid assistance from the Parsons, Iola, and Thayer Fire Departments.

The cause of the fire was ruled accidental, Engholm said.

The Chanute Community Foundation has set up a dedicated fund to collect monetary donations to assist those affected by the fire. Monetary donations may be sent to the Chanute Area Chamber, 21 N. Lincoln, Chanute KS 66720.