Unusual cause for a Tulsa house fire

Tuesday, February 7th 2006, 7:52 am
By: News On 6

Authorities are investigating a house fire with an unusual cause. It happened early Tuesday morning on East Xyler in Tulsa. Apparently some people trying to make an extra buck processing scrap metal in their fireplace, instead burned the place down.

News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin has more on how firefighters say they did it and why people are going to such great lengths to get their hands on metal.

When Tulsa Fire crews arrived there was little left to save. Tulsa Fire Captain Larry Bowles: "We got in, knocked down the fire and made a primary and secondary search." Luckily, they didn't find anyone inside. Now this might have been just a routine call for firefighters, until they looked more closely and saw what started the fire.

Investigators say it started in the gas-fueled fireplace, where someone was feeding a bunch of industrial phone cable into the flames, trying to burn off the plastic coating and get to the copper wire inside. “This is very unusual, obviously a very unsafe practice, a severe misuse of this kind of a device."

Bowles believes the people planned to sell the copper. Because they had so much of the cable in the house, officials also suspect it's stolen.

Jeffrey Ray with Borg Compressed Steel Corporation: "The strength in the economy itself has increased the demand for copper. The price is so good it's coming out of every nook and cranny basically and finding it's way to us."

Most of the scrap at the Borg warehouse comes from the industrial community; some comes in off the street. And with the price at a $1.65 a pound for top quality copper, some people resort to stealing it. "Unfortunately that's a domino effect of high prices."

It's classic supply and demand. One of the reasons the metals market is hitting record highs is on the other side of the globe. "With 1.3 billion people in a country the size of China, and they're industrializing, the consumption is quite extraordinary. They're consuming 20-percent of the world's commodities as it relates to scrap." Combine that with the strong housing market in America, and you might as well consider this a pile of gold.

Metal thefts have been plaguing Tulsa for months, in fact, two local elementary schools actually had their flagpoles stolen.

Tulsa Police suspect the crooks were hoping to cash in by selling the aluminum at a scrap yard.