MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Local, state and federal authorities are working to determine what sparked a deadly blaze at an off-campus apartment complex that claimed the life of an employee at Kansas State University.
The fire broke out just before midnight Thursday at the Lee Crest Apartments at 820 Sunset Avenue. Most of the occupants in the building, which is adjacent to K-State’s campus, are university students.
When firefighters arrived, they encountered heavy smoke and a small amount of fire in the lower level of the building.
“The initial reports were that there were people trapped inside the building. Our crews arrived on scene and found a fire in the structure and extinguished it. There were multiple people who escaped from the building prior to our arrival. In extinguishment and doing a search of the building, crews did find and remove one victim that was transported to the hospital and later succumbed to injuries,” Manhattan Fire Department Deputy Chief Ryan Almes told WIBW at the scene Thursday morning.
Dr. Vasanta Pallem, 34, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in the university's chemical engineering department, died of smoke inhalation at Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan, K-State officials said in a press release. Pallem lived at the apartment complex.
No one else was injured in the fire.
Graham Krizek saw what happened from his house across the street.
"We saw smoke coming out of the window and then once they opened the front door, a big cloud of smoke came out. It didn’t look that bad but we weren’t really sure and it looked like they put out the fire pretty quickly and then this morning we found that someone actually lost their live to smoke inhalation. I was very surprised by that. It’s a tragedy," he said.
Members of the the Riley County Police Department, the Manhattan Fire Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the ATF are investigating what caused the fire.
Almes said that it is MFD’s policy to request the assistance of the Fire Marshal’s Office when there is a fatality fire and “there isn’t something obvious” in terms of what could have started it.
The university and members of the Red Cross helped find living accommodations for students displaced by the blaze, all of who are now in hotels or staying with friends. K-State is also offering support to those impacted by Pallem's death.
K-State student Chandler Imhof was passing the scene of the fatal fire and told 13 News: "It’s pretty devastating. I drove by here earlier and saw all the ATF agents out here and I was curious as to what was going on but it’s pretty shocking to see this much traffic around this building and have something like this happen. Any loss is tragic but I think this one will hit home a little bit for K-State."
"It’s a sad day whenever you hear about death but especially in Manhattan. Everyone is pretty close as a family, united by the university. It’s just a sad day," added student Gus Dautel.
It is not clear if the fire started in Pallem's apartment.