The bright glow that Tim Whitmer saw when something, probably a boom, woke him early Wednesday looked curious, so he padded to the window and peeked out.
He found a wall of fire illuminating the humid night. Flames were consuming a carport outside his apartment at 89th and Carter streets in Overland Park.
By the time firefighters doused the last of the flames, the carport had collapsed into ash, 13 vehicles were destroyed and a half-dozen others were partly charred or melted.
Investigators were attempting to determine whether the fire was set in a trash bin at the carport, a suspicion supported by the discovery of another burning trash bin that a police officer extinguished nearby soon after the carport blaze was reported. Overland Park Fire Department spokesman Jason Rhodes called the fire suspicious.
Whitmer, an instructor at Wright Business School, and his wife fled with their neighbors as firefighters were called to the blaze at the Louisburg Square apartment complex at 2:22 a.m. No one was hurt, but the fire caused about $250,000 in damage. The final figure will not be known until investigators confirm the make and model of every destroyed car and the extent of damage to the others.
The fire spread quickly in a row of three carports. Tires exploded, waking some residents as cars and gasoline fed the flames. The fire roared into overhanging trees.
George Moore had parked his Chevrolet Cavalier in a carport just south of one that collapsed in flames. Only a wooden wall and another car separated the Cavalier from the blaze, but it was enough to save it from damage.
"We can hardly believe how lucky we were," Moore said as he examined the charred ruins of his neighbors' cars Wednesday afternoon.
Several people who had parked a few yards away, across the narrow parking lot from the carports, were less fortunate. Intense heat melted taillight covers into dripping, webbed masses and roasted at least one blue, gold and white Kansas license plate to deep sepias.
The fire was so hot that it melted the back end of Whitmer's Oldsmobile Alero, even though it was parked across from the burning carport. He is borrowing a car while it is being repaired.
He leaned out his front door Wednesday afternoon and scanned the ruins that might have been the work of an arsonist.
"It's a sick thing to do," Whitmer said.
Distributed by the Associated Press