Dozens of massive fires driven by strong winds swept through the forests and towns of Oregon, destroying numerous homes and forcing half a million to evacuate in the west coast state alone. While a tragedy for most, the wildfires present an opportunity for others.
Earlier on Thursday, Oregon police responded to reports from fire crews and worried locals of a suspicious van spotted near the towns of Detroit and Idanha, concerned it could have been involved in the recent lootings in the area.
The vehicle was then spotted driving at full speed near the Gates area, prompting a hot pursuit. State police officers and deputies from local sheriff’s offices joined the dramatic chase which saw the van driving through a golf course, not long before it drove over spike strips and stopped.
Two men jumped off the car and tried to flee but were apprehended using police dogs. Identified as Anthony Bodda, 21, and Alexander Jones, 36, they were charged with multiple wrongdoings, including attempted theft, burglary, felony eluding, and reckless driving.
“I am disappointed that while in a state of emergency these people would victimize members of our community,” Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said, assuring the public that his officers will continue to patrol the evacuated areas.
Acts of burglaries and looting have been reported in other locations across the wildfire-ridden state, with people calling from the Blue River area and Lane County. Some residents told the media their homes were burglarized, belongings stolen, and checkbooks and credit cards missing.
Meanwhile, police have opened an investigation into suspected arson thought to have triggered a major fire in the town of Ashland near the border with California. “We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it, so we’re going to pursue it as a criminal investigation until we have reason to believe that it was otherwise,” local Police Chief Tighe O’Meara told Reuters.
The bodies of two victims were found in Ashland area, with more expected to be discovered. In the meantime, the local fire marshal’s office said it is unclear whether any of the fires raging across Oregon this week were started deliberately.
Across the state, around 3,000 firefighters have been battling the blazes in recent days. Governor Kate Brown said, “we have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state.”
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