Lawton_Late on Tuesday afternoon, Lawton firefighters responded to a fire in south Lawton, and were surprised to find themselves battling more than flames. To reach the fire, firefighters had to trek through a trashed wooded area, in mounds of empty beer cans, bottles, and human feces. What's worse, is that the wooded area sits directly behind a neighborhood, where residents say they live in constant fear of the crime that goes on just behind their fences.
The fire department says that the land behind "F" Street is a railroad right of way, and like most, is a secluded area hidden behind trees and brush. The only people who were aware there were any vagrants at all were those residents living right next to it. The area is littered with empty beer bottles, paint cans emptied from huffing, and makeshift beds - only a few reasons why homeowner Garry Berg says the homeless people living behind his home must move. "I'm just worried that one of these days they're going to break into one of these houses - even my house," he said.
Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Taylor says burglaries are a possibility. "They're drinking, and doing other things," he said. "There may be other criminal activity going on, and if this is a concentration of that activity, then naturally it's going to affect the neighborhood."
Homeowner Tom Woods says the vagrants' presence already has affected the neighborhood, and he says he's sick of it. "The drunks, the fires, the parties - I can't handle it," he said. "The trash mostly, it costs me a big headache." On Tuesday, when Woods says he smelled smoke coming from behind his home, he says it was the last straw. "We used to have transients come through on the trains, and stay for a couple of days, jump the train and go, but this has got way out of hand," he said.
Taylor says that with the winter months rolling in, and the homeless camping out, the smell of smoke won't be going away any time soon. "They are going to have to keep warm," he said. "Last night it got down to 30-degrees, so there's a number of issues involved with that." Taylor says the loiterers search for warmth started the fire after a kerosene space heater was left unattended. He says the combination of an open fire, and cold temperatures, could have been the least of their worries had their been a fatality.
Taylor says the Lawton Police Department investigated the area on Monday when it was full of homeless people, and the city is trying to determine how to remedy the problem. Firefighters say that Lawton Fire Code prohibits anyone from starting an open fire, and if Tuesday's fire had spread to the surrounding homes, whoever started it would have been held liable.
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