Iola was stuck Thursday evening with “the most stubborn fire” Chief Chase Waggoner has ever encountered.
Crews worked for several hours — from at least 6:15 p.m. until almost midnight — battling a commercial structure fire in the Harmony Health store near the intersection of Lincoln Street and North State Street.
Plumes of thick smoke poured from the burning building, engulfing the surrounding neighborhoods
and disrupting the efforts of firefighters. Guests of wind repeatedly pushed flames dangerously close to a neighboring house.
The property and the nieghboring house are both owned by Eugene Reams and Leona Broadwell.
According to Waggoner, “with flames erupting through the roof of the store, firefighters quickly realized that the focus of their efforts needed to be protecting a home a few yards away from the business.”
And indeed, at the height of the inferno, the house to the east was completely enveloped in a towering wall of smoke.
Despite visibility issues, crews under the command of Deputy Chief Gary Kimball kept the flames at bay and away from the exposed residence.
In an attempt to staunch the blaze, other firefighters coordinated attacks from the building’s north and west sides, spraying water into holes made by both the fire as well as firefighters themselves.
Chanute Fire Department was called in to provide support with their new platform ladder truck, which helped turn the tide.
Additionally, five personnel from the Allen County Rural Volunteer Fire Department provided much-needed manpower to help rotate out the city’s crews.
On the cusp of exhaustion, firefighters were finally able to get the blaze under control shortly before midnight.
Crews commented that the fire was unusually difficult to extinguish due to the building’s layout, and the fact that much of the fire was in hard-to-reach portions of the attic.
Despite the stubbornness of the blaze, Waggoner said “our guys and gals did a great job; their professionalism was obvious on this call. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t save the business, but the important thing is that we protected the house nearby.”
Waggoner also praised the other departments who assisted Iola. “Chanute and the Volunteer Firefighters really saved our bacon,” he said. “Their aerial platform [fire truck] was immensely helpful.”
Iola Pizza Hut even lent a hand by delivering supper to crews on-scene. Allen County Sheriff’s deputies handed out bottles of water to firefighters.
While the Harmony Health building is still standing, it is likely a total loss due to heavy fire damage. The adjacent house was able to be saved with virtually none.
Both structures were unoccupied at the time of the fire and there were no firefighter or civilian injuries.
Waggoner also noted that “Investigators from the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office investigated the fire and believe the area of origin was a utility room containing a water heater and an old refrigerator.”
“They do not have any reason to believe foul play was involved.”