Could an arsonist be on the loose in the Oneida area? Local residents and others are asking this same question as the community has seen an outbreak of fires over the last month.
10 fires have been reported since October 1st with almost all of them pertaining to unoccupied structures, according to Oneida Fire Department Chief Derrick Simpson.
Simpson says the department is working tirelessly as the majority of the calls are coming in the early morning hours.
“All the fires are happening late at night or early in the morning,” he said. “I’m not sure what the cause of the fires are but it is odd to have this many in such a short period of time.”
A resident of Oneida, that wished to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, says they think the fires are intentional.
“No way does these many homes burn to the ground without a connection,” they said. “These fires are happening all over Oneida. I don’t want to use my name because if I do, I’m afraid they’ll burn my house down also. I think these fires are purposely being set by a pyromaniac.”
Sheriff Patrick Robinson has opened an investigation on the issue and an arson investigator has been contacted.
“This doesn’t appear to be an accidental fire issue,” he said. “These homes were abandoned, and some were undergoing renovation.”
Fear is spreading across the Oneida community, according to Simpson, as many are afraid to leave their homes.
“It does make you afraid to even leave your house and go to work,” he said. “This might just be abandoned and rental property right now but who knows what might start burning next. Some of us have insurance, but that can’t replace a life or what you call home. You may be the next target and come home to nothing left but ashes. People are scared. They’re worried to leave their homes empty all day. Security systems can only do so much, but they can’t stop someone from burning your house down. You never know when they might start burning homes with people inside them.”
The fire chief says the rash of calls is taking its toll on his department.
“The strain on our department is wearing everyone out,” Simpson said. “Call after call. Firefighters are trying to get some sleep for the next day to go to work or just getting home and then we get called out for hours at a time. It’s pretty much wearing us out.”
Putting the fire out is only half the work, Simpson said. A lot more work is needed after the fires.
“We have to do paperwork, put clean fire hoses back on the truck and clean our equipment so it’s ready for the next run,” he said. “That’s not counting the fuel and wear and tear on our own vehicles and trucks. When you go on a call you’ve got safety concerns and dangers to worry about that’s with each call. Getting to the scene or returning from the scene.”
Simpson says the impact on the community from these fires is tremendous.
“This may be somebody’s homeplace that they grew up at,” he said of the fire scenes. “These places hold memories for a lot of people and now they’re gone. Property owners are suffering financial losses from rental property and people needing a place to live won’t have one in our community.”
If you have any information on these fires you are urged to contact the sheriff’s department at (606) 598-3471.