LARNED — By her own admission, Shelly Klingensmith doesn’t like thunderstorms.
So when Tuesday night’s storm that rolled through Pawnee County ended with a final boom near midnight, she could have been relieved.
“It was a big loud crack, and it left me feeling really creepy,” she said. “Then things just started happening.”
Shelly works as the night manager for Rodeway Inn, 802 14th St. in Larned. Most nights flow uneventfully.
This one didn’t.
First, the desk phone rang intermittently for no reason. “When I picked up, there would be nobody there,” she said.
Next, on a walk-through of the building, she noticed that some of the lights on the building’s second story had gone out.
“I was getting weirded out,” she said. “So I called 911, to have them send somebody down. I said we must have been hit by lightning.”
Observation and evacuation
Sgt. Tony Boor from the Larned Police Department responded to the call reported at 12:37 a.m. He had seen a large bolt of cloud-to-ground lightning shortly before, along with several other witnesses, but was unsure of its location. The pair then took their inspection tour outside, where Sgt. Boor observed flames shooting out of a hole in the roof, apparently from a lightning strike.
There were 22 guests booked in for the night. Boor and Klingensmith went to the second floor to start an emergency door-knock and evacuate the patrons.
“It went pretty well,” Boor said. “We did have some hiccups; people wanting to gather up their stuff and take it with them.”
Boor did have to break in a first-floor door when the electronic master key failed. The still-sleeping patron was awakened and evacuated with the rest.
The evacuation was complete at approximately 12:44 a.m.
Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office dispatched two deputies along with Lt. Josh Huff, to assist evacuation efforts and provide crowd control. Huff also serves as the Pawnee County Emergency Management director,
Larned Fire and Rescue began their suppression attack from the second floor. When it was found that the only access to the attic was through a small broom closet,
A breach of the second-floor ceiling found the attic fully engulfed in flames, Huff said. A call was made to the Great Bend Fire Department for assistance, which sent a crew and their ladder truck.
This expanded the firefight to both above and below, as the Great Bend firemen entered by holes punched through the roof.
As the firemen battled the blaze, patrons were contained on to the hotel parking lot and into the adjoining Big R lot to the east. By then, the operation was becoming noticeable to the Larned late-night public. “We did get a few looky-loos,” Huff said.
The two-front firefighting attack was effective in containing the blaze in the attic, though the second-floor ceiling had been gutted, Huff said. The fire, which had been burning for about three hours, was nearly extinguished by 3 a.m. and by 3:30, patrons were allowed to return to their rooms escorted by law enforcement officials to retrieve their belongings. A move to relocate some lodgers to the Townsman Inn was begun while others spent the night in their vehicles. The scene was cleared and roll-up accomplished about 4 a.m.
Huff said while the lightning strike is a contributing factor, the official cause of the blaze remains undetermined. “A fire is practically never ruled as ‘caused by lightning,’” he said. “You just about have to have someone actually see the strike and the fire start.”
Rodeway closed indefinitely
Later Wednesday morning, Dean McCrary, interim manager and daytime front desk clerk for the Rodeway, praised his night manager Klingensmith for her actions in reporting the strike and getting the patrons out. “I’ll bet that her hand is still sore from banging on all the doors.”
McCrary was on hand Wednesday to keep tabs on the motel, which also meant reluctantly turning away potential business.
“Right now, the power is off so we don’t even have the ability to change, reserve or cancel reservations,” he said. “We’re dead in the water.” McCrary said the motel was fully booked looking ahead to Memorial Day weekend, with reservations from those planning to attend the scheduled Larned High School Alumni All-School Reunion in tandem with Santa Fe Trail Days.
The Townsman Inn in Larned is assisting with communications and may be contacted at 620-285-3114.
Rodeway Inn’s parent company, Choice Hotels, may also be contacted for assistance at 877-424-6423.
“Now we’re closed with no idea when we’ll be able to reopen,” he said. “There are trusses in the attic that are completely burned away, the attic is toast and the second-floor ceiling is gone. There’s water damage. It’s just going to take a major rebuild.
“One day we’re fully booked and the next day we’re closed,” he said ruefully, shaking his head.