Fire at house on Boundary causes fatality

Robert Smith

In the past week, another Pawhuska house fire has claimed a life. The incident was the second fatal residential fire in the city in two weeks.

The most recent fire took place at 1318 Boundary Ave. last Thursday, May 7, Fire Chief Gip Allen said. The fire call came in about 12:20 p.m. Thursday, and firefighters were on the scene about seven hours, he said. The house was destroyed, he said.

Allen confirmed that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the local district attorney’s office had looked into the circumstances of the fire on Boundary, along with the state fire marshal’s office, and a determination had been made that the fire was accidental.

Interim Pawhuska Police Chief Lorrie Hennesy said she had called in the OSBI. Hennesy said the OSBI identified the deceased as James Dwight Southerland, 52.

District Attorney Mike Fisher posted an item Friday morning on the Pawhuska Community Watch Page, in which he responded to speculation in town about whether several recent house fires might be related.

“I am aware of the recent house fires in Pawhuska,” Fisher said in his post. “There has been some speculation that there may be an ‘arsonist running loose.’ Law enforcement has been very thorough in its investigations. The Pawhuska P.D. has been working with the OSBI, the State Fire Marshal and the Medical Examiner’s Office and, to date, we have found no evidence to connect the fires. While we feel strongly that they are not related, if we later discover a connection, I will communicate that to our community.”

Fisher told the Journal-Capital he had become aware of speculation in the community, and that the speculation had been building steam.

Pawhuska firefighters also responded May 1 to a house fire in the vicinity of 17th Street and Bighill Avenue that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old boy. That fire was followed in quick succession by a house fire that began in the early hours of May 2 in the vicinity of 12th Street and Boundary Avenue. Firefighters were out until about 7 a.m. May 2, responding to that incident.