Seminole, Okla., has suffered through eight fires in three years, causing some to fear that the community is losing its history.
Since 2010, the town has lost its old Booker T. Washington School, the school’s gymnasium and the historic Grisso Hotel. There have also been five house fires, including one two weeks ago.
“It makes a person wonder, but what can you say?” said fire victim Bill Bowman, who owned the home that burned July 13.
“It went up like dry newspaper,” he said. Firefighters blamed an electrical problem.
The historic Grisso Hotel building was gutted by fire April 23, 2011. Booker T. Washington School burned in October 2010 and its gym burned last March. There also were two house fires in March that led to two arrests for arson.
Ralph and Cynthia Arrington, who owned the historic downtown Grisso Hotel and had been living in it, lost the 1927 hotel while they were away on vacation. They are convinced that an arsonist set the fire, but no official cause has been determined and the state fire marshal’s office has acknowledged it conducted a substandard investigation.
An agent assigned to the case took photographs from the outside but believed it was too dangerous to go inside to look for accelerants, The Oklahoman reported.
Potential physical evidence was lost when the Arringtons worked to clean up the property after Martin cleared them to do so.
Operation Chief Luke Tallant said two new investigators have been assigned to the case and asked to conduct a complete investigation.
Much physical evidence is gone, which will make the investigation difficult, but “there are still people to talk to,” Tallant said.
“Arson is one of the toughest crimes to try to prove,” he said.
Many of the other Seminole fires can be explained, Fire Chief Bryant Baker said.
The son-in-law of the owner of the old Booker T. Washington School was living in a motor home inside the school, Baker said. He found an old recliner sofa along the side of the road and took it inside the school. He later panicked when he discovered the recliner sofa was full of red ants, Baker said.
“He then proceeded to douse the chair with gasoline inside the building, which then splashed over on him, caught the chair on fire … caught the motor home on fire and proceeding from there,” Baker said.
Two of the house fires occurred within a couple of hours of each other March 20. They resulted in arson and burglary complaints being filed against a 20-year-old man and 15-year-old juvenile, according to police reports.