A matter of seconds

By Chris Strunk
Ark Valley News – March 21, 2014

Valley Center firefighter Josh Tormey sprays the back of the house at 329 N. Park March 13 while Josh Thieme, with the Sedgwick County Fire Department, holds the ladder. A grass fire quickly spread to the west and south sides of the house.

Valley Center firefighter Josh Tormey sprays the back of the house at 329 N. Park March 13 while Josh Thieme, with the Sedgwick County Fire Department, holds the ladder. A grass fire quickly spread to the west and south sides of the house.

A longtime Valley Center resident was left homeless this week after a grass fire spread to her small house at 329 N. Park and severely damaged it on March 13.

Lois Black-Pianga, who has lived in Valley Center for more than 80 years, said she is looking for a cheap rental house in Park City or Valley Center.

“We have one more night at the hotel, then we’re on the street,” Black-Pianga told The News on March 17 as she was preparing to meet with an insurance adjuster at the residence.

The American Red Cross paid for a hotel for Black-Pianga for three nights and the local Methodist church chipped in two additional nights.

“I’ve been offered a place to stay temporarily in Winfield. But I feel it’s too far to take care of the business we have to take care of here,” Black-Pianga said.

Already busy with a string of grass fires along K-96 and I-135 around 5:30 p.m. March 13, firefighters were called to the 300 block of North Park on a grass fire about 5:45 p.m.

Valley Center Capt. Rob Tormey said emergency crews received two different reports on the fire — one was for North Ash and another was for North Park.

When firefighters arrived, bystanders waved the truck to the alley between Ash and Park. The grass fire, which had started in the alley, had burned through a privacy fence and quickly spread to the back and side of the house, which was a former garage that sits in the backyard of a large, two-story primary residence that faces Park.

“I looked out the window and black smoke was blowing past the front of the house,” Black-Pianga said. “So I stepped out to see where it was coming from.”

At least two passersby saw the grass fire and were trying to extinguish the blaze before it spread to the house.

“I immediately called 911,” Black-Pianga said. “All lines were busy. I looked out again and it was already burning at the front of the house, just that quick.”

Kelley Rosebaugh, who lives at corner of Third and Ash, was at Kwik Shop at Fifth and Meridian when she saw smoke rising from the direction of her home.

“We pulled up on the side and saw a small little fire in the alley,” Rosebaugh said. “By the time I got around, the smoke was all around her house. She was just barely coming out of the door. I went and grabbed her. She had the front door open and was looking around the corner. I told her she had to get away from the house. The fire spread fast, really fast, really, really fast.”

Tormey said a power line in the alley had somehow reached the ground and sparked a fire in the dry grass, quickly spreading to the west and south sides of the house.

Firefighters tried to knock down the blaze and keep it from spreading too far into the small, square residence, but the fire had already penetrated the walls.

At the same time, a crew attacked the interior of the house, pulling down sheetrock in the bathroom, utility room and bedroom. The fire had spread into the attic.

“There’s a lot of damage,” Tormey said.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster