Three homes have been destroyed and another is damaged after a fire spread across the 500 block of West Fourth Street in Sedalia Thanksgiving morning.
The Sedalia Fire Department and Sedalia Police Department responded to a call of smoke coming from the roof of a residence on Fourth Street near Missouri Avenue around 11 a.m. Thursday. By the time crews were on scene, heavy smoke was coming out of the residence and soon flames engulfed the entire structure. As it burned, Thursday’s high winds spread the fire to the neighboring structures on either side of the residence just before noon. Eventually, it spread to a fourth house across the street.
The original house was destroyed, with two others being considered a total loss. The fourth house, one of the neighboring homes, had exterior damage and smoke damage. No injuries were reported.
SFD Deputy Chief Greg Harrell said the fire in the first home reached all the way to the second floor.
“It just burned way too much. The wind was killing us,” he said. “The wind drove the fire, the next house was less than two feet away. We had leaf fires all over. The wind just didn’t help us.”
Dan Lowe lives across the street from the first home and next door to the fourth home. He said he was cooking Thanksgiving dinner when he heard the trucks arrive on Fourth Street. He saw a “wall of flames” on the home.
“When I saw the extent of it, I decided with the wind instead of going to my daughter’s at noon I would stay and help however I could,” Lowe said. “Turns out that was wetting down my house. I got out the garden hose and started spraying down my house. About five minutes after I started, the next door house caught fire. I’m glad I took preventative measures.”
Jim Long lives in the house next to Lowe, which was the fourth structure to catch fire. He said he heard the sirens and then saw “a lot of fire coming out of the bottom front apartment.” He sprayed down his front yard with water, but the flames reached the structure rather than the yard. He and his family were uninjured and found a place to stay Thursday night; their landlord was looking for a new place for them to live.
Red Cross workers arrived on scene around 3:30 p.m. to assist those who had been affected by the fire.
Of the roughly 40-member SFD crew, Harrell said about 35 personnel were on scene. As the fire progressed, Pettis County Fire District was called in for mutual aid, and to utilize their tanker trucks, as Harrell said the tankers were needed to “supplement what we could get out of the hydrants, that was a big problem.” Crews were using hydrants as far as Main Street and Broadway Boulevard.
“We had 10 (firefighters) on duty. Most of them had gone through two or three air bottles,” Harrell said of the decision to bring in PCFD. “They’re supposed to have a 20 minute break after each bottle, and they had gone through two or three. They were just done. It really taxes you physically.”
Harrell said there were a combination of factors that contributed to the blaze, including a vacant lot behind the first structure that pushed the high winds around the homes even more.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career,” he said. “You see some bad fires, but not four houses, with three totally gone.”
Harrell told the Democrat around 3:30 p.m. that crews would remain on scene to finish “mopping up,” but it would take at least a week for SFD to replace and fix broken equipment.
The fire crews weren’t the only ones who spent the day on scene. Mayor Steve Galliher was one of the first people to arrive after hearing the sirens on his way back from the annual Ham Breakfast at the Sedalia Country Club. He helped with crowd control of the many spectators and made sure the firefighters were taken care of.
Tammy Zeiller and Ruthie Dugan brought coolers full of ice and bottled water for the firefighters as they wore bright pink PCFD shirts in support of their firefighter husbands. Soon Jake Rigdon and her daughter Jessi came outside to help keep the coolers stocked with bottles to allow Zeiller and Dugan to pass out cold water as needed.
“The more we help them, they can do their jobs and not worry about this stuff,” Jessi said.
As the fire continued, more community members offered assistance to the crews. The American Legion was finishing up its Thanksgiving dinner when members heard about the fire. They called dispatch and arrived on scene carrying loaves of bread, ham, turkey, water and chips to feed the firefighters. When the American Legion members stopped by Casey’s on Main Street to pick up ice, the employees gave it to them for free. Galliher also brought several trays of Gatorade.
“This is what makes Sedalia what it is,” Galliher said. “I got here immediately and two ladies were already bringing water. Neighbors were bringing out water too, offering to let people use the restrooms in their homes. … I’m proud of every single one of them. They did an excellent job, no one was hurt. It’s a tragedy those houses burned.
“Thank you to those who helped — when people need help, the community comes together. I’m not going to go until I know everyone’s OK.”
At press time, investigators were still at the scene of the fires. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
For further updates on this fire, check back with sedaliademocrat.com or pick up an edition of The Sedalia Democrat.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.