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Flames destroy apartment complex and several homes in Overland Park

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A fire raged at an apartment complex under construction Monday afternoon in Overland Park, then it spread to surrounding homes as the heat ignited the roofs and the wind carried embers away to start new fires.

The fire started at the new, mixed-use, development apartment complex at College Blvd. and U.S. 69 in Overland Park. The four-story apartment complex, called CityPlace, was still under construction. Construction employees were inside the building working when the fire started with an apparent explosion. They all ran for safety. The fire spread to at least eight homes and could consume still more as the winds continue to spread the fire.

Witnesses described hearing a loud "boom" just as the fire broke out.

Jason Rhodes with Overland Park Fire said it was classified as an 8-alarm fire. Fire crews from as far away as Lawrence, Kan. arrived on scene to assist.

The dry conditions and wood shake roofs are making containment even more difficult for firefighters.

Jason Rhodes, Overland Park Fire Dept.

"It's a bit of a war zone down there," Rhodes said, adding that in his ten years with the fire department, he's never seen an incident of this magnitude.

Homes were seen billowing smoke at least a half mile away from the apartment complex.

At least 17 homes were damaged by the fire.

“This fire was so big that the heat exposure was the immediate problem to the south. I think as bad as the winds were blowing was just the direct heat. It was close enough to this complex and that fire was large enough that it was literally just heating these structures up to the point of ignition,” Rhodes said.

Firefighters said they are evacuating nearby neighborhoods and that they are fighting at least a dozen house fires and that the fire is hopping from roof to roof. As of 5:20 p.m., Rhodes said the fire was not yet contained.

The fire spread to homes in the surrounding area, some as far as a half-mile away.

The vast scale of the blaze left firefighters' resources stretched thin. As crews battled the large fires, homes could be clearly seen in flames with no trucks immediately available to help.

Rhodes said the fact that it was an active construction site elevated the fire risk. Propane tanks exploded and lumber was on site.

“Construction sites are dangerous. That’s why they put fences around them and post them and ask people to stay out,” Rhodes said.

Todd spoke toFOX 4's Marcus Officer about how the neighborhood responded.

"I heard some guys yelling and I looked up and I saw a fire," said a resident named Todd. "I got some video of it and I kind of watched it until it got too hot. I'd say it went up in about ten minutes. And then all the neighbors. We went and knocked on neighbors' doors. We got people out of their houses and just kind of put some fires out, the small ones, but it was hard."

Todd said people were dragging out hoses and ladders to try to put out the little brush fires.

"The biggest thing we saw; wood shake. You could see those. Those caught up real quick. Those caught on fire very quickly. That's what we saw go up first," he said of the wood shake roofs in the neighborhood.

CityPlace is described as a "90-acre mixed use development located in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas in Johnson County. ... CityPlace features four office buildings totaling 600,250 square feet on 26 acres, 1,382 multi-family units on 39 acres, 39,860 square feet of retail space on 6 acres and 140 senior living units."

On its website, CityPlace describes itself as:
"....a vibrant mixed-use community that provides residents the opportunity to live, work and play in one energetic and connected neighborhood. CityPlace features commercial office buildings, residences, retail shops and landscaped trails for those who enjoy an active lifestyle."

There have not been any injuries reported at this time. Overland Park Regional Medical Center reported it had not received any patients as a result of the fires.

Fire crews continued to work throughout the night putting out open flames and hot spots. The ATF said it will be assisting in the investigation to determine the cause of the fire.