Behind two major OKC blazes were unlicensed OG&E contractors, no oversight or inspections
Two major apartment fires that caused millions in damage took place after electricians, not subject to any independent inspection or regulation, were connecting the properties to transformers on behalf of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.
The most recent blaze, a five-alarm fire that destroyed apartments at Classen Curve, followed work done by an unlicensed electrician whose company closed soon after.
Lawsuits over the Feb. 8, 2022, Canton Apartments fire, the largest commercial fire in Oklahoma City history, and the Aug. 17, 2017, fire at the Steelyard Apartments in Bricktown both allege workers energized the wrong connections and did not use standard equipment that could have alerted them to the bad connections and prevented the fires.
After delving into the lawsuits, The Oklahoman saw a pattern of alleged negligence with each fire and asked which government entity is tasked with inspecting connections to high voltage transformers. The answer is such work is not inspected at all — and that lack of supervision is completely legal.
Attorneys for OG&E, its subcontractors, and owners and builders of the complexes all declined to comment citing ongoing litigation. But filings by those associated with the Steelyard and Canton apartments both allege OG&E and its subcontractors, operating without any independent oversight, were not following national electrical code.
“OG&E held itself out to be ‘specially qualified in the methods and standards associated with installing equipment used to supply electrical power,” wrote Calvin Sharpe and Todd Goolsby, attorneys for developers of the Canton and their insurers. “OG&E made a bad connection that destroyed an apartment building.”
OG&E declined to answer several questions about its hiring practices, training and licensing requirements, or whether it inspects work done by subcontractors. Christi Woodsworth, vice president of marketing and communications, said the utility does not comment on litigation. The questions, however, did not mention the two fires or either lawsuit.
Woodsworth also referred to court filings by OG&E attorneys quoting fire investigators as saying the fires were accidental. Those suing the utility and its contractors allege the fires were caused by negligence but do not claim they were set intentionally.
“OG&E, like other electric companies, uses contractors to supplement its personnel in order to ensure that it can meet its customers’ needs for power connections, related work and reliable electricity as our service area continues to grow. We have processes in place to vet qualified contractors,” Woodsworth said. “Beyond that, we cannot comment on anything related to pending litigation.”