Okee-Tantie fire thought to be arson

OKEECHOBEE — An early morning blaze that destroyed a small county-owned building in a camping area at Okee-Tantie has unofficially been ruled as arson.

According to an Okeechobee County Fire/Rescue (OCF/R) report by Firefighter/paramedic Lieutenant Robert Banfield the fire that razed the unoccupied pavilion was “intentional.”

That report notes OCF/R was notified Sunday, March 19, of the fire at 4:35 a.m. Fire crews arrived on scene at 4:48 a.m., and the fire was under control by 6 a.m.

When those crews arrived on scene, 95 percent of the building was in flame and about half of the roof had collapsed. What was left of the roof “… was unstable,” noted the OCF/R lieutenant.

Okeechobee County administrator Robbie Chartier said Monday the building held bathrooms and had a screened area where people could picnic.

Lt. Banfield estimated the building sustained $100,000 in damages.
Another report by Deputy Nathaniel Mitchell, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), indicated an angler stopped him in the marina parking lot and said he saw a vehicle in the area of the building near campsite 133. The angler assumed the person he saw was getting ready to go fishing.
At the time, the witness was on his boat and about 500 feet from the Kissimmee River bridge.

“A short time later I saw the vehicle leave in a hurry. It was bouncing over the speed bumps,” the angler reportedly told Deputy Mitchell. “I looked again and saw the glow of the fire.”

Mrs. Chartier said because of plans to renovate the campground and existing buildings, this one will not be rebuilt by the county. And, she continued, it’s unlikely it will be turned in to the county’s insurance carrier.

“If I’m not going to do anything with it, then why turn it in?” she asked.

The investigation has been turned over to the state fire marshal’s office.

Fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damages to this pavilion at Okee-Tantie early Sunday morning. The fire is thought to be caused by arson. Photo by Eric Kopp.

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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