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F7 work center faces overnight blaze

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

F7 Work Activity Center, at 301 S. Kennedy, has been in the hot seat lately — twice in a week's time, in fact.

The Shawnee Fire Department responded to a call about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, discovering a blaze that burned down an outbuilding and then made its way to the main warehouse.

SFD Capt. Joe Henry said firefighters were on scene until around 4 a.m.

“It burned mostly cardboard and paper,” he said, “and there appeared to be some damage to a tractor and forklift.”

The city provided a backhoe to pull out some of the paper and cardboard, he said.

Henry said a rough estimate of damage could be in the neighborhood of around $10,000.

He said the incident is under investigation.

Mary Wisdom, with F7, said another incident occurred just about a week ago on the property, when a semi-trailer was burned about 4 a.m.

She said she believes the incidents were intentional.

“This time it's expensive,” she said. “The outbuilding is completely gone.”

She said a tractor, forklift and the machine that processes the recycling center's cardboard have all sustained damage.

“Knobs and steering wheels on the equipment are melted; I don;t know if they will be salvageable,” she said. “The smell is horrific; you can't even be inside the building.”

In the community since 1963, F7 Adult Activity Center offers a two-fold purpose while serving the Shawnee area: offering purpose in the lives of its adult clients — those overcoming delayed or limited development — and providing a much-valued service to local businesses and residents. Through the center, employees are able to hold down paying jobs in a safe, monitored and relaxed setting. Much of what the clients do centers around recycling paper goods.

The work center, which (at full force) employs 32 clients, had just reopened up to a few workers last week.

“We' had three or four in back and no more than four or five in the workshop,” she said. “They were rotating days, so everyone who wanted to work could come.”

This week F7 was working a couple more employees into the schedule.

The group was acknowledging COVID-19 precautions.

“We were checking temperatures and wearing face masks,” she said. “Now we are shut down again.”

Wisdom said she needs to talk to F7's board of directors to figure out what the nonprofit's next step is going to be.

“I am hoping we will be able to move to a temporary site, so our clients can work,” she said. “They are devastated by this.”

She said even without the machinery, F7 clients can still at least tear paper.

One onsite resident is having a harder time, though.

F7's resident kitty, Huckleberry, was inside the building when the fire started.

“He obviously escaped when the building was opened up to fight the fire,” Wisdom said.

Though she couldn't find him at 4 a.m., she was able to track the feline down in the woods nearby a couple hours later.

“He has a horrible cough,” she said. “We are getting him in to see a veterinarian.”

But Huckleberry's home is gone; he now needs a temporary home for a while, Wisdom said.

The electricity is out, making F7's phone lines out of order.

Anyone wishing to help in any way can contact F7 through its Facebook page or by email, at info@F7wac.org.