By JIM MISUNAS
LARNED — Thank goodness the Larned Fire Department adhered to the Boy Scout Motto — Be Prepared.
All of Larned’s 18 volunteer firefighters responded to a blaze that burned down the building that houses the Central States Scout Museum Friday. It was the most damaging downtown fire in Larned in several decades, dating back to a Larned City Hall fire.
The Central States Scout Museum, 815 South Broadway, was packed with Boy Scout and Girl Scout artifacts. Some artifacts were than 100 years old, which ignited quickly.
A propane heating stove is the likely cause, according to Randy Bird, Larned’s fire chief. The damage to the building and contents is estimated to be in excess of $500,000.
The property was supervised by Charles Sherman, who lived at the building. Sherman and volunteers recovered several salvageable artifacts Saturday. The building was insured, but the contents of the museum was not insured.
“I was working out in the yard and I went in and I smelled smoke. I couldn’t get to the back,” said Charles Sherman, the museum’s curator since 1989.
The initial fire call at 2:10 p.m. Friday drew all 18 Larned firefighters to the scene. Broadway was blocked off for several hours by local law enforcement due to heavy smoke. Three Larned pumper trucks fought the blaze before the last firefighters left the scene at 4 a.m. Saturday.
“We did three pages, which indicates a major disaster. They knew we needed help,” Bird said. “The whole community pulled together, above and beyond to protect everyone and keep everyone safe. Upon coming down the road, I saw a fully engulfed structure fire.”
The Great Bend fire department dispatched five firefighters and a valuable 75-foot aerial truck that fought the blaze from above.
“The resident said he used a propane heating stove for heat and that was the likely cause,” Bird said. “There was a lot of memorabilia stacked from floor-to-ceiling.”
The chief said crews faced major challenges fighting the flames because of a tin roof that kept the heat in.
“The tin roof was trapping in the heat,” Bird said. “Normally with a wood roof it would fall in. And there was a propane bottle in there, diesel fuel, a space heater, and ammunition,” Bird said. “All their artifacts, there was an incredible amount of fireload in there so that made it hard to fight too. We greatly appreciated the help we received from the Great Bend fire department.”
Bird said the building next door appeared to escape much of the fire damage because there was a 3-foot gap between the buildings.
“A lot of those items can’t be replaced, but they were able to receover some items from display cases that were not destroyed,” Bird said.
The Great Bend firefighters left the scene after 6 p.m. Friday, but local firefighters stayed on the scene until 4 a.m. Saturday, according to Bird.
The Central States Scout Museum featured one of the most extensive exhibits and collections of boy and girl scouting memorabilia.
The museum featured several letters, photos and original drawings from scoutings’ founders — Baden Powell, E.T. Seton, James West, and Dan Beard.
The museum featured a wide range of uniforms including Sea Scout and Air Scout with our oldest uniforms dating from the 1920s. Old Merit Badge Sashes by Scout, Explorer and Air Explorer, including Merit Badges, medals and patches are displayed with over 100 old turn-down Merit Badges.
Also included in the collection is a prerevolutionary Russian Scout Badge, Rockwell’s Spirit of Scouting coins and many Rockwell plates, cups and figurines.
The museum occupied a former auto dealership full of Scouting memorabilia. The core of the collection was the personal property of Charles Sherman.