NKC fire update: Careless smoking caused 3-alarm fire, investigators say

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Investigators working Tuesday's 3-alarm fire said they were able to quickly, and fairly easily, determine a cause of the fire that ripped through a building in downtown North Kansas City.

The likely culprits: a careless smoker, and a windy day.

John Ham with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Kansas City Division said "rarely are we able to wrap up an investigation this quickly," at a news conference Wednesday. Ham said they determined someone "failing to properly extinguish smoking material on the back side of the building," is likely what caused the blaze, with a big help from Tuesday's high winds.

ATF investigators and fire crews followed the fire's path of origin and were aided by witness statements and surveillance video in the area.

The investigation may have been a fairly light job, but that's a far cry from the task firefighters faced on Tuesday, when high winds were a steady fuel for the fire.

North Kansas City Fire Chief Dave Hargis

Firefighters were still battling hot spots Wednesday morning.

Wednesday afternoon, a North Kansas City spokesperson said city officials have declared the building a dangerous building and the building will soon be completely demolished.

The spokesperson said the property has been secured, and demolition will take place over the next several days.

Dave Hargis, North Kansas City Fire Chief, said Armour Road would re-open Wednesday afternoon, adding that Swift Street would still be closed "for some time" while firefighters put out all the hot spots.

Firefighters told FOX4 shortly after the blaze was contained that the call initially came in as smoke on a deck. Workers said there is a second-floor patio where people go for smoke breaks.

Ham said, at this point, it is considered "an accidental fire" and no criminal investigation is under way.

"There was no intent by anyone to cause a fire. Unfortunately, it happened," Ham said. "And I don't know that with specificity that we could indicate the exact person."

A viewer sent a photo of the smoking patio area, where authorities confirm the fire started as a result of careless smoking.

Tuesday afternoon smoke from the fire could be seen for miles, windows burst from the pressure, and air conditioning units on the roof exploded.

Galls Uniform Company, which supplies many first-responders with uniforms is on the main floor, along with another warehouse. Insurance and law offices are up top. Dozens of workers and customers at nearby businesses went running to the streets, capturing images as it all unfolded.

"In my mind, I just thought it was a drill. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Took my purse and we came out there's lots of smoke. Obviously got darker and thicker and flames started coming. It was pretty scary," said Maria Pinon, who works in the building that burned.

A look at the business fire in North Kansas City on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

Everyone is thankful that three fire departments took fast action to evacuate those inside and nearby and that no one was hurt in the process.

The weather quickly allowed the fire to get out of control in a hurry, with winds fanning the smoke and flames.

A total of 13 businesses were located inside the building.