Oregon drivers have been illegally stopped at gunpoint by armed groups patrolling evacuation zones over the past week as massive wildfires sweep through the West, destroying more than 1 million acres in the state and displacing hundreds of thousands.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said at a press conference Monday that his agency responded to more than 330 calls for service over the past week – a 400% increase from the previous week.
“We have a group of different individuals that are actually trying to protect property. They actually have been armed and are stopping individuals within the commune out there,” Roberts said. “First thing I’d ask them to do is please stop that. We have reached out to a number of them. If they see somebody suspicious, call us. Let us handle it. It is illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint.”
“Many of the people we have seen going into these areas are actually going in to get another load of their personal belongings,” Roberts said. “The last thing I want to see is something tragically happen because somebody is overreacting to something they believe is criminal and it’s not.”
Most 911 calls made out of Clackamas County over the past week were about suspicious persons and people trespassing, Roberts said, adding that although the agency made some arrests, “the majority of those calls are unfounded.”
To provide an anecdote about the “unfounded calls,” he explained that the sheriff’s office received several calls about a suspicious truck carrying tanks of gasoline. When deputies tracked down the driver, they were able to confirm the individual was in the area to deliver gas to residents using generators.
“There’s a lot of panic and alert going around with the belief that people are running around setting fires,” Roberts said. “I want to reassure everybody that we are on this and if you see anything suspicious call us.”
Several signs posted between Colton and Estacada, Ore., in Clackamas County last week threatened those willing to trespass on the property to commit crimes would be met by homeowners’ gunfire.
“Home and armed. You loot, we shoot,” one sign said. Another read: “Looters and arsonists will be shot.” A third captured in photos published by Fox 12 Oregon threatened: “We won’t call your family. Your body will never be found! Bang Bang!!”
Meanwhile, in Portland, located in nearby Multnomah County, a man was arrested twice within a 12-hour period after allegedly admitting to using a Molotov cocktail to ignite a brush fire along a freeway.
Lionshead fire in Oregon (Inciweb)
Domingo Lopez Jr., 45, was arrested for the first time Sunday, and officers found a plastic bottle with a wick as evidence, according to the Portland Police Bureau. He was released hours later only to be arrested a second time Monday for allegedly using a lighter to ignite six more small fires in the same area.