Cigarette believed to be the likely cause of Creek County fire
BY RHETT MORGAN World Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2012
8/10/12 at 7:01 AM
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and its damage, view aerial video from Saturday’s inferno and read previous stories.
SAPULPA - A discarded lit cigarette might have started a Creek County wildfire that has destroyed hundreds of homes and burned nearly 60,000 acres, an investigator with the Creek County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
Investigators want to question three men who were at a residence near Oklahoma 48 and Oklahoma 33 when the cigarette was discarded Aug. 2, Sgt. Matt Greco said.
"You can smoke outside, but you can't put your cigarette out on the grass" under the statewide burn ban, Greco said. "If there is an accident, they need to let us know so we can get out there and get the fire put out. They can't just flee and not call 911. From our knowledge, nobody at that particular residence called 911."
On Wednesday, Creek County Sheriff Steve Toliver said he believed that the fire was purposefully set in violation of the statewide burn ban. Any person who violates the ban could be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, by imprisonment for up to one year, or both.
But if investigators find that the cigarette-sparked fire led to the widespread structural damage in the county, the perpetrator could be held responsible, Greco said Thursday.
"They could be possibly held responsible for all that," he said, "not just because the fire started but because they were negligent not to report it, not to take the appropriate action to try to prevent it.
"From what we understand, there was drinking going on, and the cigarette fell down. I don't know whether they intentionally put the cigarette on the ground, tried to stomp it out and didn't, or it just fell out of their hand and flared up. We don't know."
A neighbor is a witness, Greco said.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took into evidence the cigarette in question because authorities initially thought the property was tribal land, Greco said. The property since has been determined to be public land, but a BIA investigator is helping with the Creek County probe, Lt. Les Ruhman said.
When told that the area was on fire, one man tried to take action and contacted people who were able to summon firefighters, Greco said.
"But we don't have any record of anyone there calling 911," he said. "We believe it was a neighbor who called."
The man believed to have started the fire has been told to give a statement to authorities but has not, Greco said.
According to the Oklahoma Forestry Services, a total of 58,500 acres have burned in Creek County since Aug. 3.
American Red Cross officials reported Thursday that more than 300 homes have been destroyed in wildfires statewide, but spokeswoman Donita Quesnel said the number destroyed in Creek County may not be available for some time.
The Red Cross reported earlier that its assessment teams had counted 209 homes that had been destroyed in Creek County. But due to the number of different agencies assessing a broad area, Quesnel said a total number is unclear.
"It's such a moving target," Quesnel said. "At this point, we don't have any confirmation."
Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management haven't released counts on structural damage, pending on-the-ground assessments being conducted by state and federal authorities.
Original Print Headline: Cigarette may be cause of fire
Rhett Morgan 918-581-8395
Joe Vasquez with the U.S. Small Business Administration and JaNae Sullivan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency look over a burned house in Creek County as local, state and federal officials assess the damage from the wildfires on Thursday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Al James of the Federal Emergency Management Agency walks by a burned out truck in Creek County as local, state and federal officials assess the damage from the wildfires on Thursday. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World