LAWTON, OK (RNN Texoma) - In a span of less than 30 days, the Lawton Fire Department has responded to at least five fires at vacant residential buildings that were being used as temporary shelters or housing by the homeless.
“It increases this time of year every year,” said Mark Mitchell, Lawton Fire Marshal.
As the temperatures go down, the number of fires in vacant and abandoned houses goes up.
“If you’re cold I can promise you you’re going to do whatever you have to do to get warm,” said Mitchell. “I’m going to do the same thing and we’ve been having fires in these vacant structures.”
Just last Friday firefighters were dispatched to a fire at a vacant house in the 1800 block of SW D Avenue. It is believed to have been started by someone trying to keep warm. The day before, a former motel in the 1200 block of Cache Rd. caught fire for a similar reason and just earlier that morning the same thing happened at a house in the University Mobile Home Park at 28th St. and J Ave.
“If you’ve got a structure make sure it’s secure because if it’s unsecured they’re people out there who are homeless or need somewhere to get warm and when it’s cold,” said Mitchell.
Not only does squatting pose big safety concerns but it’s illegal and violators could be charged with trespassing. Edith McKinley, the director of the C. Carter Crane Homeless Shelter in Lawton says there are legal and safer options for the homeless to stay warm in frigid temperatures.
“Please don’t do that. Don’t risk even going to jail over that,” said McKinley. “The main issue is safety. It is safer for you to come to a shelter, where you know it’s going to be warm, where you’re not invading somebody’s property. We don’t want anybody put in that situation. We want people safe. We want people sound and we want to help keep people warm in this cold weather that’s coming.”