Fire Destroys Five Pre-Statehood Buildings in Downtown Okmulgee

Tuesday, September 7th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A downtown fire in Okmulgee gutted five buildings that dated back to the dawn of Oklahoma statehood. It was the second major fire of the summer in the downtown area. Fire investigators sifted through the rubble Tuesday morning. A hot and dirty arson dog walked out of the debris, after spending hours sniffing for clues. While the remains of the building smoldered, investigators looked for evidence of possible arson. They may have found something but nothing conclusive. "We brought a backhoe in, and we're checking it out as we go, layer by layer," said Fire Marshall Rick Chisum. "We've had some interesting finds, we're checking into it further."

The investigation is proving difficult because the evidence of how the fire started is buried beneath tons of rubble. The largest building collapsed into the basement and is now flooded with water. The fire took out half a city block, one block away from the town square. Another fire in July destroyed several buildings just a few blocks away.

The latest fire is another blow for Okmulgee preservationists. They had hoped the row of turn-of-the-century buildings might one day be restored. "To lose two blocks in your downtown, especially when you work as hard as we do to revitalize your historic downtown, it's a pretty devastating blow," said Kendell Mooney of the Oklmulgee Chamber of Commerce.

The Okmulgee chamber already has prepared plans for a park to be built where the buildings that where lost in the first fire stood. They hope to come up with another plan to also turn the latest fire into a positive for downtown. "We have a resilient spirit and we're not about to let this tragedy cause us to quit our efforts to revitalize downtown," Mooney said. The fire was not hot enough to melt awnings across the street. However, the fire did shatter windows on the entire block, but no one was hurt.