The Ottumwa Fire Department had a busy weekend. Four structure fires in about two hours, which included three within about a half-hour, always raise questions.
Ottumwa was lucky people weren’t hurt. In one case it would have taken little for a shed on fire to have spread to the adjacent house. Both firefighters and the homeowner, who used a garden hose to keep the house wet, deserve credit in that case.
The fire department had not, as of this writing, called the fires anything more than suspicious. But the close proximities in time and distance, as well as the fact there were no obvious ignition sources for a couple of the fires, strongly suggest the conclusion will eventually be arson.
When it comes to fire, luck isn’t something to depend on. It’s in everyone’s best interests to see these cases resolved quickly, and to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity.
The latter is always a good idea. It’s remarkable how often investigations can hinge on someone who pipes up and says they saw something a little out of the ordinary. Being aware of your surroundings can, in addition to making you safer personally, lead to the community being a safer place.
This year has seen a marked improvement in the number of fires the OFD has had to respond to. Events like this weekend can quickly change that. They can also quickly lead to tragedy. In one of this weekend’s fires, the homeowner said the flames stopped not far short of containers of fuel for yard equipment. Had they ruptured, it’s easy to see the volatile kerosine and oil spreading the flames to his home. It didn’t happen, but it was far too close for comfort.
The OFD isn’t the only organization that deserves a pat on the back. When there are several calls in a short time, all for the same basic concern and located in a small area, it can be easy for the situation to become confused. Fire Chief Tony Miller credited dispatchers for directing firefighters to multiple locations with clear, accurate instructions. Dispatchers are often easy to overlook, since they don’t work on the scene of emergencies. But this weekend’s events offer a clear example of how critical a good dispatch center is for those responding to the scene.
No one can be watchful all of the time. Everyone must sleep. Most have jobs they must attend to. But we are all safer if we remember that we are a community, if we watch out for one another as neighbors should. That happened this weekend, and it made a difference.
As sorry as we are to see the loss of personal property, including irreplaceable items that meant far more than their monetary value, we’re glad things weren’t worse with this weekend’s fires. We hope the cause is swiftly determined and that, should investigators determine they were intentionally set, the person responsible is caught quickly.
We can’t depend on luck. But, as this weekend showed, Ottumwans can depend on each other.