An Emporia nursing home is a total loss after a fire late Friday night.
Fire investigators at the Emporia Fire Department confirm the fire began by improper disposal of discharged fireworks.
"They had shot fireworks earlier in the evening and the official cause was discard of fireworks," said Emporia Battalion Chief Rich Gould.
It happened just before midnight at the Sterling House in the 1200 block of 12th Ave. The fire quickly engulfed the building because it spread quickly through the attic.
"There was a lot of fire that was involved up in the attic that we didn't see from the outside and it basically just took the main part of the structure," Gould said. He said the attic structure was called "open truss" which means there aren't rafters. He said it's good for support, but not so great for fires.
"When you've got a open truss design in attic space, that fire travels very quickly. and if you've got people that aren't moving very fast, it's kind of nerve racking," Gould said.
Everyone was evacuated from the nursing home safely. The 21 residents of the Sterling House were taken to Newman Regional Health across the street to spend the night and receive care.
Firefighters stayed on scene for several hours to monitor hot spots and extinguish any small fires that sparked.
Gould said the house was completely up to code and had a sprinkler system. But the location of the fire proved difficult for that system to help.
"Part of the problem that we ran into was the sprinklers were not activated as the fire alarm was not activated," Gould said. " When we arrived on scene, the fire alarm wasn't going until we actively pulled the station." He said since the fire was mainly in the attic area, the heat was above the sprinklers and they couldn't get hot enough to activate them.
Firefighters are still investigating the fire.
Gould said the fire could have been worse, but a fire code requirement contained the fire to the main area of the nursing home.
"I think in 2001, they were asked to put fire guard sheet rock on both sides of their firewalls," Gould said. "The firewall stopped the fire from entering the residential part of the facility."
The firewall protection meant some valuables could be recovered. Families of residents returned to the site Saturday to try to pick up family members' belongings. Workers were going into rooms and recovering valuables like eyeglasses and purses to hand over to families.
"They've gone past making sure everyone is safe, making sure everyone has a place to be" said Ellen McLean whose mother lived in Sterling House. Now, she said, they were, "taking out essentials and then the secondary items after that.
Ashley Brooks' grandmother lived in the nursing home and was very happy when workers were able to find her grandmother's glasses and dentures. She said Friday night was filled with emotion when she found out about the fire.
"I hoped into my car really fast and ran over here to see if she was okay," Brooks said. "The entire thing looked like it was up in flames so it was kind of scary looking." Brooks said when she heard residents were over at Newman, she went there to see her grandmother.
Brooks said her grandmother is doing well and was in a good mood Saturday.
"She's kind of joked a little bit that obviously they're not going to be able to feed her breakfast for a while," Brooks said. She added that her grandmother seems to still be in shock a little.
McLean said she was stopping by Saturday to take some pictures.
"At least we could show my mother what this looks like because she was kind of dazed in the middle of the night as I assume most residents were," McLean said.
Gould told Devon Fasbinder this isn't the first time firework disposal has caused fires in Emporia.
"I know this is three years in a row we've had a major structure fire on the Fourth of July," Gould said. He expects the city will have to take a look at firework regulations.