QUAPAW, Okla. —
Steve Tippie picked through the charred debris of what was his mobile home, wondering why someone would torch it.
“For the longest time, people were not connecting the fires,” he said Tuesday. “But there have been five or six trailer fires on Indian land here in Quapaw in the last month. Maybe a dozen fires in the last year.
“All of the fires have happened between midnight and 5 a.m. These are not accidental fires. Someone is setting them.”
Tippie lost furniture, appliances, clothing, toys and family photos in the fire that destroyed his home in the early morning hours of Aug. 24. He said he did not have insurance.
A month ago, Tippie lived in the mobile home with his three children, who range in age from 3 to 8. He said he moved out of the mobile home and disconnected the electricity to it when he decided to move it to property owned by his girlfriend in Peoria. He said her mobile home and his mobile home would have provided enough bedrooms for their five children.
His children are now living with his mother, Cora Miller, and attending school in Miami. It was Miller who alerted her son to the fire.
“The guy who lives in that blue trailer over there called me and said Steve’s house was on fire,” she said. “I called my husband, who was on his newspaper route, and told him to tell Steve his house was on fire.”
Said Tippie: “When we showed up, the Quapaw Fire Department told us there was nothing they could do. It was too far gone.”
Said Miller: “I cannot believe someone would have such disregard for someone else’s property like this. It’s not safe to leave your home here for fear that someone will burn it down.”
Miller said the structures that have been burned were not abandoned in that they were used for storage of personal property.
While Miller and Tippie were talking about the fire, a van pulled up to a neighbor’s property where a mobile home burned two weeks ago. The women in the van stopped to look for valuables in the debris.
“They won’t find much here,” Tippie said. “It’s been pretty well picked over.”
Two churches have helped the Tippie family members with clothing, but Miller said they don’t have a place to store things that have been donated.
Quapaw police Chief Gary Graham said: “It’s true. Several empty residences over the past few months have burnt. We believe it to be arson. All are on tribal trust land.
“BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) police are the lead agency on the fires. We are assisting them as needed. We don’t have any authority to do anything else.”
A spokesman for the BIA in Miami said the superintendent of the BIA office was unavailable for comment Tuesday and that he is the only person who could speak for the agency.
“In the last month, I believe there have been maybe four or five fires in Quapaw, all of which have been vacant properties on tribal trust land,” Graham said. “The tribal trust land is everything west of Quapaw Street in Quapaw, except for a couple of blocks.”
Graham said no firefighters with the Quapaw Volunteer Fire Department have been injured battling the blazes.
Quapaw police Chief Gary Graham said it is not clear whether the fires in Quapaw are linked to a string of suspicious fires in Picher that have involved abandoned structures.