ESA replaces American flags destroyed by fire

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

A fire in the predawn hours of Dec. 9 destroyed more than 70 American flags that had been stored in a building located at 5th and Palmer in downtown Pawhuska. The flags were stored whenever they were not in use for public celebrations of national holidays.

The Epsilon Sigma Alpha sorority (ESA) raises funds for flag purchases, and local scouts work with ESA to display the flags on holidays such as July 4 and Memorial Day.

Pawhuska Fire Chief Gip Allen said there was no utility service (electric or gas service) to the building at the time of the fire. Allen said the incident was being treated as a suspicious fire and was officially under investigation.

"It has to be something. It just doesn't start by itself," Allen said of the fire.

Scoutmaster Bruce Hendren, the owner of the building where the flags were stored, said he understood there had been several suspicious fires recently.

"It wasn't a good deal," Hendren said of the fire, which reportedly broke out shortly before 4 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 9. The affected building was located south of the Pawhuska police station and west of Dance Maker Academy.

"We've just got to smile and go on, though," Hendren said, adding that it would do no good to be outraged about the incident.

"We just prayed for them," Hendren said regarding the possible arson fire. "Hopefully they'll get their sickness taken care of. We've just got to look at the bright side -- nobody got hurt."

The 75 new flags that ESA ordered following the fire cost $24.50 each, an increase over the price of $14.50 per flag that the sorority paid the previous time that it purchased flags.

Hendren said the fire occurred shortly after the scouts had finished replacing flags that had become faded.

Linda Boone, of ESA, lamented that the fire destroyed a community asset that the scouts work to maintain.

"Things happen," Boone said. "It's too bad, because it never should have happened."

She noted that she had already received a call from a man who said he wanted to make a donation to help out.

"We're working real hard to get the flags before MLK Day," Boone said, referring to the national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is celebrated in January each year. "It's what we do."

Boone added that she was distressed that Hendren probably lost tools that he had stored in the building.

In addition to the issue of replacing the flags, ESA and the scouts will also be dealing with replacement of poles for the flags.

Barbara Strahan, of ESA, said she understood that all the poles that were used in the process of displaying the flags (not utility poles, of course, but small poles used with the flags) would need to be replaced.

Hendren confirmed that the process of replacing the five-foot poles was underway.

Anyone who may be interested in helping ESA with the unexpected costs of this loss can send donations to ESA Treasurer Barbara Strahan at P.O. Box 1497, Pawhuska.