Fire at house used by squatters declared arson

Fire at house used by squatters declared arson
(Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -A north Lawton home was deemed uninhabitable and is under investigation as an arson after it went up in flames Friday night.

The home on the 1700 block of Northwest Smith Avenue was vacant, and according to neighbors was known to have squatters.

Neighbors say they saw the flames from their kitchen window around 11:30 p.m. Friday and raced next door to put out the fire with a garden hose. Fire crews arrives and had it put it out in about 10 minutes.

They have ruled out gas and electricity to be a cause, because neither were connected to the home. As of right now, they are still investigating it as an arson

There haven't been many reports of arson caused by squatters, but fire investigator Marc Sutphin says with our increasing homeless population and the number of vacant houses, he does foresee it becoming more of a problem. With that, he cautions about the dangers of vacant and abandoned homes.

"The problem with vacant homes throughout Lawton is the possibility of somebody getting in there trying to sleep or stay. It's also been very cold just because of the nature of it being winter time. They may be trying to stay warm by either lighting a little fire or they may have cigarettes or discarded cigarettes…then it causes a fire," Sutphin said.

Sutphin says often times, no one calls in seeing a squatter until it is too late.

"A lot of times, they see people in there but they don't know them by name or necessarily by face. They just know they may hear something in the house or they may see someone leaving out the back ally. So, that makes if very tough on us to find out exactly who was in the home," Sutphin said.

For the home owner that may have moved and is waiting for a new tenant, Sutphin says they should have someone regularly check up on the property.

"We just advise them to try to set up a plan. Either neighbors, friends…somebody to be able to actively check on the home," Sutphin said. "Go by and make sure if you wanted the house boarded up. Have someone verify it was boarded up and checked on periodically."

Sutphin says an owner can face a citation of $750 or 30 days in jail if their property is deemed as an unsafe structure.

If you have any information on the fire at 1712 NW Smith Ave., you are asked to call the Lawton Fire Department.

Copyright 2016 KSWO. All rights reserved.