Official: Putting out house fire delayed while crews wait for Westar to disconnect electricity

Wichita firefighters were delayed Sunday in putting out a house fire near 53rd Street North and Meridian because they had to wait about 30 minutes for Westar Energy to arrive and disconnect the electricity, fire officials said.

The fire caused about $50,000 in damages to the house and is thought to have been started by a short in the electric panel, Battalion Chief Mark Hahn said.

The family of four, including two children, was in the house at the time, but no one was injured, Hahn said.

Firefighters responded about 4 p.m. to the residence in the 5400 block of North Charles. They soon found the electric panel in the basement arcing and the electric meter mounted outside the house smoking, Hahn said.

“We tried to get a message to Westar how urgent it was,” he said. “We were sitting here letting this fire burn, keeping it in check until they could get here and disconnect the line from the pole.”

The Labor Day weekend probably contributed to the delayed response, Westar spokesman Leonard Allen said.

The fire started in the electric panel by the stairwell in the basement and was burning the stairwell. Firefighters initially went into the basement, but they were pulled out because the panel was arcing and they could have been trapped in a basement with only small windows, Hahn said.

“We couldn’t do anything with it until Westar got here,” he added. “A lot of times we can remove the meter. But when the meter box is smoking, it’s very dangerous.”

After arriving, the Westar worker started to disconnect the meter, Hahn said.

“But as soon as he got close to it, it arced and blew him back,” he added. “He realized, ‘Yeah, I need to disconnect from the pole.’ ”

Allen said a 30-minute response is “actually pretty good on a weekend.”

“On a three-day holiday weekend, they probably had to call someone in,” he added. “Thirty minutes isn’t an average time on a regular day during the week, when they can dispatch someone quicker.”

The Red Cross was called to provide overnight help for the family, Hahn said.