Residents concerned after continuous fires at vacant apartment complex

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City firefighters responded to fires six times over the last year at an abandoned apartment complex.

“The sky was lit up orange and I was probably 100 yards from it but you could smell the smoke. You could smell the smoke down here in my neighborhood,” said nearby resident Catherine Smith.

The most recent fires are just two days apart.

Crews responded to the complex off of NW 16th, first on Saturday and then again on Monday.

“It was a vagrant using fire to stay warm inside the structure, it’s likely that some of the other ones were the same cause,” said Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson. “When you have this time of year, the weather starts to cool off, you know, people that don’t have a home are trying to get in somewhere to stay warm.”

Smith lives just a few blocks away, and says because homeless people frequent the empty building the property has been worrying people in her neighborhood for years.

“It’s just become an absolute eyesore, and a hazard, and I’m afraid the next time it catches on fire somebody is going to get hurt or worse,” said Smith.

Oklahoma City officials tell News 4 since they don’t own the property, there’s not a lot they can do.

They do, however, fine the property owners for the cost of the trip every time departments have to respond.

Smith says it’s not just the fires that are worrisome.

“We’ve had multiple thefts in the neighborhood, people coming through, I’ve had neighbors that have had plants stolen off their front porch,” Smith said. “I would like to see them torn down, just torn down, because if there’s another fire, somebody’s going to get hurt or worse.”

Fulkerson says in total the past six fires have caused about $305,000 in damage.

We spoke with the current owners, Brown Group Real Estates and Investments, based out of Oklahoma City.

General Manager Jackson Sinclair says their company is geared toward buying rundown properties and turning it in to affordable housing for low-income communities.

They are currently working on a different project, but these apartments are slated to be next in line.

They expect to start this project in 2020.

In the meantime, Sinclair says they are working with the fire department and are looking at additional measures to secure the property, such as new fencing.

The fire department and city officials remind citizens if you see someone going into a vacant structure, call an official and let them know.

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