Inquiry continues into Wednesday’s fatal fire

By Katherine Wartell

Officials are still searching for a cause to the apartment fire that killed one person Wednesday night.

Crews remained on the scene Friday at 820 Sunset Avenue, and as of mid-day northbound traffic from Anderson Avenue was still blocked.

Fire Chief Jerry Snyder said all agencies, including the state Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Kansas State Fire Marshal, are continuing to investigate.  Authorities said the presence of those state agencies is routine in all fatal fire investigations.

Emergency responders were called to the scene before midnight Thursday, where they extinguished a fire in the building’s lower level. In the complex, they found Vasanta Pallem, 34, a K-State researcher who worked in the chemical engineering department, suffering from smoke inhalation.

Pallem was taken to Mercy Regional Health Center, where she later died.

K-State officials said that the complex, close to K-State’s campus, housed mostly students. They said those students were placed in hotels or with friends. 

The extent of the damage caused by the fire is not clear, nor is it clear whether the fire started in Pallem’s apartment.

Don Lee, with Lee Construction, the company that owns the 12-unit complex built in 1968, said nobody had been allowed inside the building as of mid-day.

But Lee said officials informed him the damage was mostly superficial and that the fire itself was small enough that it was put out with 10 gallons of water.

He said the company, a family business, is now trying to care for the tenants. “We’re shocked,” he said. “It’s a terrible tragedy.”

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