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Officials: Spilled gas on mower started Derby fire that destroyed two houses

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at 1:25 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 7:50 a.m.


Derby Fire Destroys Two Homes

Derby fire chief says both homes are total losses. Fire spread to homes from a grass fire in the backyard of one of the homes. (Video by Jaime Green/March 31, 2014)

As lawn mowing season approaches, a safety lesson can be drawn from a fire this week that destroyed two houses in Derby, authorities said.

If you spill gas on the mower while filling it, don’t try to start it immediately.

“Let it have time to evaporate and dissipate,” Derby Fire Chief Brad Smith said Tuesday. “It’s a mistake most of us have made, but it can be a dangerous mistake.”

It was for Gary Kilian, 51, on Monday afternoon.

Investigators have determined the fire that destroyed Kilian’s home at 1600 E. Cresthill was the result of spilled gasoline on a mower.

The fire quickly spread east and also destroyed the house next door. Dwain Diehl, the owner of that home and a Wichita police detective, was in Hutchinson at the time making funeral arrangements for his father.

Shortly before 3 p.m. – on a day when winds were blowing up to 30 to 40 mph – Kilian was filling his mower with gas as it sat between the two houses.

“Sounds like he spilled quite a bit of gas on the mower,” Smith said. “When he went to start it up, it backfired. With low humidity, it ignited on him and flashed up.”

Kilian went to get a garden hose, but by the time he returned the fire also had ignited a couch sitting near the mower and alongside his house, Smith said.

“One thing led to another,” Smith said. “Winds whipped it up pretty good.”

A wooden fence between the two houses acted as a wind tunnel for the fire, he added.

The fire moved so quickly that both homes were fully engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived from a half mile away, Smith said.

Kilian sustained burns but not severe enough to be hospitalized. He was treated at a doctor’s office, Smith said.

The estimated loss of the homes was $150,000 each, he said.

Meanwhile, Diehl and his family were dealing with the loss of more than their home. Tuesday, they were in Hutchinson attending the funeral of his 74-year-old father, Gary Wayne Diehl, who died Friday.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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