A cloud of smoke drifting over downtown is a familiar sight in Okmulgee. The communityâ€™s fourth major fire since June gutted a furniture store, and the cause of the fire is unknown. The fire was large, even by the standards of the other fires in the city this summer. "For this type of a structure fire, we were blessed that we didn't have any injuries," said Okmulgee fire chief Bob Hardridge.
Hardridge is discouraged that so many fires have taken so much from downtown.
"We'd like to find out what's going on," he said. Investigators stood back from the building which was still too hot to enter on Monday. While they attempted to work, some reached their own conclusions. "I myself believe there's got to be an arsonist somewhere doing this,â€ said investigator William McCrimmon. â€œThat would be my first belief."
The owner of the furniture store destroyed in the recent blaze also owned the building involved in the last downtown fire. He has no insurance and because of his latest losses, he is now out of business.
The rash of fires worries business owners, but they don't know how they can better protect themselves until the cause of the last three fires is determined. Most of Okmulgeeâ€™s downtown buildings like Ace Hardware are old and made of wood. "I have insurance, yes. I don't know how you can be in business without it. It would just devastate us,â€ said manager Ann Churchill. The first fire of the summer was determined to be arson; the other three are still under investigation.