NORMAN — Many unanswered questions swirl around the New Year’s Eve fire at 4926 N. Elwood Ave. that nearly claimed the life of Tulsa firefighter James P. O’Neal.
The suspicious blaze Saturday started at the back of the residence when no one was at home. O’Neal, 35, was not breathing when fellow firefighters rescued him from the burning house. He was revived at the scene and taken to the hospital where his condition continues to improve. But for two days O’Neal, a 14-year veteran of the fire department, was on a ventilator.
Tulsa has been plagued with fires attributed to arsonists. In many cases, vacant structures, especially in north Tulsa, are burned so that thieves can more easily reach valuable copper wiring and pipes. It’s not clear that was the intent in this fire.
Regardless of intent by who set it, the fire almost cost the life of O’Neal, father of two boys.
Little seems to slow these arsonists down. They are difficult to apprehend unless authorities catch them in the act. That makes it all the more important for citizens to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity; record license plate numbers of vehicles that aren’t familiar to the neighborhood or take note of people near vacant properties who probably should not be there.
So far, Tulsans, including former firefighter Brett Baker, have contributed $1,500 for a reward leading to information about the arson that endangered O’Neal. People care about those who lay their lives on the line to protect Tulsans 365 days a year.
The arsonist(s) who set fire to that house was just as reckless regarding human life as if he’d fired a gun.
— Tulsa World