The fortunate news is that the current owners, Les and Rhonda Loucks, plus their six children, escaped the blaze unharmed.
Chief Terry Lowmaster from the Fire District 10 department that serves Burns, said he and fellow volunteers arrived on the scene shortly after 5 a.m.
“We had heavy smoke as soon as we arrived, then it flashed over, lights were blown out, windows were blowing out—from then on (the fire) just took off,” Lowmaster said. “There was no way (to stop it). We had to go defensive from the git-go. We never had a chance.”
The Florence Fire Department also responded, sending four volunteers and equipment to assist. Lowmaster said a total of 20 firefighters responded.
The chimney was the only part of the structure still standing once the fire was extinguished. It was knocked down that morning as a safety precaution.
A fire investigator was on the scene by midmorning. Lowmaster said it will be difficult to determine the cause of the fire for some time yet—if at all.
“It’s probably going to be hot for a week,” Lowmaster said of the smoldering rubble in the basement. “We’re not going to be able to get in there to dig through it.”
According to reports, the house was shipped to Burns from New Orleans as a Sears & Roebuck “kit” in the early 1900s by J.W. Barker, who is described in local historical sources as “an extensive cattle feeder located three miles east of Burns.” Barker also owned a successful grain elevator, feed and hay business in town; it was destroyed by fire Dec. 15, 1910.
The original house included a full basement plus three stories above ground. On July 1, 1973, the top story of the house, then owned by W.E. Street, was damaged by fire and removed.
Even with two stories and a basement, the house was still 8,800 square feet, according to a source on the scene. In the early 1990s, the house was used as a restaurant called “The Antebellum.”
“It’s the icon of Burns,” Lowmaster said of the historic structure. “The view of the skyline has changed at Burns, that’s for sure.”
The Loucks family, who lost all its possessions in the blaze, has been receiving assistance from neighbors, churches and friends since the fire. The Red Cross and Salvation Army also were called to the scene, according to Lowmaster.
Friends reported the family would be staying in Wichita with Rhonda Loucks’ parents for the time being. The children range in age from kindergarten to college.
Ironically, the Loucks, who had lived in the house for about eight years, were nearing the completion of a major restoration effort inside the house and were painting the exterior.
“I can tell you this much, just about everybody who lives in this town has been around to see what happened here—the family is across the street and there’s just been a steady stream of traffic,” said Kelly Jantz, assistant fire chief. “You know that this house meant a lot to a lot of people, and their hearts are really going out to the family.”
Aside from the monetary loss is the loss of memories through the photos and heirlooms that were destroyed.
“She is a real picture person in terms of family history through pictures,” said Sandy Jenkins, a friend from the Burns community, about Rhonda. “All that’s gone.”
Rhonda Loucks is the Burns city librarian and director of the local food pantry; the Loucks family is an intricate part of community life, Jenkins said.
“Not everybody in town always agrees with every decision that’s made about this or that or the other,” she said. “But you can say about Les and Rhonda that they have huge hearts. They’re always looking for ways to help someone. That’s how they live.”
An assistance fund for the family has been established at Community National Bank, P.O. Box 54, 207 N. Washington, Burns, KS 66840. Anyone wishing to donate by check should indicate “Loucks Family Fund” on the memo line.