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Archive for Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fires take toll on reservation

March 10, 2007

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— Tribal police stepped up their nighttime patrols on the Kickapoo reservation after a spate of apparent arson fires that caused more than $500,000 in damage.

The fires have burned a barn, several vehicles and grassland while also disrupting residents' sense of well-being on the 30-square-mile reservation, west of Horton in far northeast Kansas.

"The people are really jittery right now," Damon Williams, general counsel for the Kickapoo tribe, said Thursday. The reservation is home to between 800 and 900 tribal members, he said.

No one was hurt in the three fires Tuesday night and two more Wednesday night, and no arrests had been made by Thursday. Rewards totaling $20,000 have been posted for information that helps determine who started the fires.

Kickapoo Fire Chief Kevin Ganoe said this week's costliest blaze broke out Tuesday evening in a barn that served as the base for the tribe's profitable farming operations. Ignited among some old hay bales, the fire destroyed the barn and its contents, including two trucks, two tractors, a combine and a swathing machine.

Kickapoo firefighters, with help from neighboring departments, were able to save other property on the farmstead, including a rental house, farm machinery and a 500-gallon fuel tank.

The barn stood about two miles north and two miles west of the Golden Eagle Casino, the tribe's biggest moneymaker. Williams said agriculture is its second-most profitable venture.

Late Tuesday, Ganoe said, tribal firefighters also responded to two brush fires that burned 16 and 32 acres respectively. Both appeared to have been arson, he said.

Two more apparent arson fires were reported Wednesday evening, one consuming 1.5 acres of land and the other destroying 36 hay bales on a private farm, Ganoe said.

Williams said the reservation's residents are on a "heightened state of alert."

"The fires are getting a little closer to structures, so we are concerned that we may have an individual or individuals who are getting a little braver," he said.

The tribe has about eight full-time police officers, Williams said, but eight full-time positions were recently cut from the tribal fire department due to budget issues, leaving four full-time and eight volunteer firefighters.

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