Triple Fatal Fire Shows Homeless Problem In OKC
OKLAHOMA CITY - Three people died over the weekend after a house near Blackwelder and Northwest 2nd went up in flames. The Oklahoma City Fire Department said this was a vacant home, and believes the people inside may have been homeless.
Fatal fires at vacant homes are a growing problem in the city, addressing the bigger picture issue of homelessness.
“They’re just trying to stay warm. It’s miserable. It’s bitterly cold. These people are in survival mode. It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson.
In 2017, there were ten fatal fires in Oklahoma City. Fulkerson said almost half of them were deaths from vacant home fires. He said often times, people try to start a small fire to keep warm, but it gets out of control.
As far as 2018, there have already been six fatalities from fires, including three from over the weekend. Fulkerson said this year is off to a rough start.
A neighbor named Kenneth Joe said he woke up early Saturday morning to the sound of sirens. He went out to his back porch and saw flames and thick smoke in the sky.
“The house was totally engulfed,” said Joe, “It collapsed inside itself.”
Joe said the house at 218 N Blackwelder Avenue was vacant for years, but homeless people stayed there every night.
“I wish there was something that could be done because although they were homeless, they were somebody’s kids, somebody’s mother, somebody’s father.”
Joe said he doesn’t know them personally, but the homeless people in his neighborhood never cause any trouble. He believes they are just trying to survive the cold weather. Joe wants a better solution for those down on their luck.
For 15 years, Joe has seen an increase of homelessness in his neighborhood.
“We have more homeless than we have space for in the shelters.”
He wants a long-term solution.
Even with boarded-up windows and doors, people are sneaking into empty houses, starting small fires to keep warm, and sadly it can lead to deadly consequences.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department confirms this vacant home did not have smoke alarms. This is the same issue as all the fatal fires they responded to in 2017, and thus far in 2018.