Fire in Oregon is now being investigated as a possible arson: ‘We’re going to pursue it as a criminal investigation’

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JACKSON COUNTY, OR –For days, Oregon has been the victim of ongoing an raging wildfires throughout the state.  One of them, started in Ashland, Oregon, is now being investigated as an arson.

The fire has been blamed for the destruction of roughly 600 homes so far and has claimed over 3,000 acres.  Now, Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler reports that two bodies were located in the aftermath.

Sickler reported that the Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit has started their investigation surrounding the two bodes that were located.  Sickler told the Mail Tribune that nothing has been ruled out as to the cause of the fire:

“We are still in the early stages [of investigation].  Nothing’s been ruled out – it’s still an active investigation.”

This particular fire appeared to have started on September 8th and spread “at an extreme rate,” said Sickler.

As the fire spread, Sheriff’s Deputies and other local law enforcement tried to evacuate as many people as they could.  However, some completely refused to evacuate their homes.  Sickler said:

“We had people refuse to leave their homes.  We don’t know what their status is because we had to move on…This is an event that is larger than anything I’ve been a part of with regards to the loss of property and the destruction to the community.”

Tighe O’Meara, the Police Chief for Ashland Police Department advised that they were viewing the fire as possible arson.  O’Meara told Reuters:

“We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it.  We’re going to pursue it as a criminal investigation until we have reason to believe it was otherwise.  

O’Meara did not provide much information as to why they believe that this wildfire may be an arson.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown reported that over 10% of the state’s population had been evacuated due to the fires.  She said:

“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state.”

Police officials report that the fire departments working the active scenes have made progress but noted that the Almeda fire was still very much active.  They also ask that people stay out of the area of the fires as their presence could interfere with firefighters dumping fire retardant and water in the area.

While that arson investigation is underway, police were able to arrest one man for allegedly starting another fire in the same area.  On September 8th, people called the police after seeing a man light a fire behind their home in Phoenix

Oregon State Troopers and Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputies responded and found Michael Bakkela who was standing in the area.  They report that Bakkela “was standing close to a very large fire threatening several homes.”

When police contacted him, they probation violation but did not specify how he violated.  On September 11th, they charged him with two counts of arson, 15 counts of criminal mischief, and 14 counts of reckless endangering.  Police have not released how they developed probable cause for Bakkela’s arrest regarding the arson.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Mike Moran, told ABC News that there was a large amount of damage that resulted in the fire that Bakkela allegedly started.  Moran said:

“There are numerous homes, many of which are burnt completely, some are just heavily damaged, that are part of the 15 counts of criminal mischief.” 

The FBI released a statement warning against social media rumors of left or right wing extremists starting the fires.  They said:

“FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon.  With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue.

“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away [from] local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control.  Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”

PORTLAND, OR – The state of Washington has been engulfed in wildfires for the last couple of weeks.  Knowing this, one would think that no one would tempt fate by throwing an incendiary device, however, in Portland, that is exactly what happened.

On September 13th, the Portland Police report that they received information of a brush fire in the area of the 9600 block of East Burnside Street. 

Responding officers reported an area of grass that was on fire and Portland Fire Department responded and was able to put out the flames.

Roughly an hour later, East Precinct officers were flagged down by a person who pointed out a subject who they believed started a fire.  The witness stated that the man, later identified as Domingo Lopez, Jr, had used a Molotov cocktail to set the area on fire and was staying in a tent close to their location. 

Officers made contact with Lopez who allegedly admitted to starting the fires and he was placed under arrest.

Lopez was taken to the Multnomah County Jail for the charges of reckless burning and disorderly conduct in the second degree.  Portland Police Department advised that arson investigators will continue their investigation to determine if there are any other criminal charges that were warranted.

One would think that Lopez would have either stayed in jail or, at the very least, not have committed any other crimes upon release.  However, you would be wrong, Lopez was apparently released and decided to, allegedly, set additional fires. 

Portland Police advise that their East Precinct Officers responded to additional brush fires on the 14th at 3:37am.  These fires were set along I-205, six in total.  The Portland Fire Department responded and put out three of the fires, which were in the early stages.  Community members were able to stop and put out the remaining three.

Upon checking the area, Portland officers located Lopez walking along the interstate and stopped and talked with him.  During their encounter, officers developed probable cause to arrest him, again, in less than 24 hours, for intentionally setting brush on fire. 

A search incident to arrest revealed a lighter which he had on his person which they seized for evidence.  After Lopez was arrested, police took him to a mental health facility for an evaluation.  In addition, he was issued citations for sex counts of reckless burning of land.

Lopez’s alleged actions of setting fire in the city of Portland comes after the state of Washington has been victim to numerous wildfires.  These fires, mostly of unknown origin, have claimed dozens of acres of land, destroyed homes and property, and left people homeless. 

In addition, at least ten people have lost their lives as a result of the fires throughout the state.  The fires, which are still active, could well be blamed for causing more deaths as authorities have been unable to completely check the areas until they are safe to enter.

Officials have reported that at least one of the fires that was set, besides these that Lopez is accused of, may have been done intentionally.   

On September 8th, people called the police after seeing a man light a fire behind their home in Phoenix

Oregon State Troopers and Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputies responded and found Michael Bakkela who was standing in the area.  They report that Bakkela “was standing close to a very large fire threatening several homes.”

When police contacted him, they probation violation but did not specify how he violated.  On September 11th, they charged him with two counts of arson, 15 counts of criminal mischief, and 14 counts of reckless endangering. 

Police have not released how they developed probable cause for Bakkela’s arrest regarding the arson.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Mike Moran, told ABC News that there was a large amount of damage that resulted in the fire that Bakkela allegedly started.  Moran said:

“There are numerous homes, many of which are burnt completely, some are just heavily damaged, that are part of the 15 counts of criminal mischief.” 

Family: Boy, 13, died in wildfire trying to save his grandmother and family dog

September 13, 2020 – LYONS, OR- Wyatt Tofte, a 13-year-old boy died as he tried to save his grandmother from the wildfires that engulfed cities and towns along the West Coast. 

The wildfire, initially was 15 miles away, but spread rapidly and while the family was asleep, the fire reached the home forcing Angela Mosso, Wyatt’s mother to rush her son, mother, and pet dog (a 200 pound bullmastiff mix) into the family car. However, the car did not make it far as it quickly stopped.

Angela was then forced to send her son and dog out on foot. She also had to say goodbye to her mother, Peggy Mosso, who was unable to walk any further. Angela then began walking away from the fire to safety. Susan Vaslev, Wyatt’s great aunt and spokesperson for the family told CNN:

“She knew the only way for her son to survive was to run. So, she told Wyatt and the dog to run.”

According to reports, Chris Tofte, the boy’s father drove to a nearby town that night to pick up a trailer with the hopes of returning to take the rest of the family and their belongings to safety. He was also in town searching for a generation as the high winds forced the power to go out before the fire actually started.

Angela walked roughly three miles before she was saved by her husband, who made his way back towards the house and was searching for his family. As he struggled to navigate the dark, smokey road, he almost ran over a barefoot woman in her underwear with charred hair and a blackened mouth.

Chris stopped to help the woman into his car, telling her that he was looking for his wife and son. The woman said:

“I am your wife.”

Chris took his wife to safety where he left her with paramedics and then went back out towards the house to look for his son and mother-in-law. However, at that point the fires had spread even father and he could not make it as far as he did the first time. 

The next day and night, Chris continued to search for his son and mother-in-law. However, he could not find them. A few days later authorities did find Wyatt. He was in the driver’s seat of the family car with the dog in his lap and the grandmother’s remains in the back of the car.

Lonnie Bertallato, Angela’s brother said that he believes the wheels on the car melted, which is why his sister was forced to send her son and dog out on foot, leave her own mother behind, and walk towards safety.He said:

“I don’t need to go into too much detail, but obviously, he turned around to try and save his grandma.”

The great aunt, Susan said:

“Wyatt ended up going back to the car and tried to drive his grandmother out. So, he attempted to drive that car and he, the roads were so hot that it burned up the tires and so he wasn’t able to drive it to safety. Did not make it out of the fire.”

She added:

“It’s devastating, just the way it happened and the whole store and who was lost. Any time a young child dies in a fire like that and the details, it’s just something that you can’t wrap you head around and it just hurts.”

Angela, the mother, suffered burns across her whole body, but is expected to survive. Susan said:

“She has a long road to go, but to come out of that, we all know surviving full-body burns is a painful experience in itself. Recovering from that and then to come back to your song having died and your mother having died.”

According to recent reports, Governor Kate Brown said that more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated from their homes as the two large windblown wildfires raged across the Pacific Northwest. In addition, about 500,000 people are in different levels of evacuation zones. Dozens of people have been reported missing with at least six fatalities reported.

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Here is another article from Law Enforcement Today about the deadly wildfires spreading through the West Coast:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This is the thanks our first responders get.

A commander working the CZU Lightning Complex Fire had his department vehicle broken into.   His wallet was stolen and bank account emptied.

ABC30 in California reported that at a press briefing Sunday morning, CAL FIRE operations chief Mark Brunton said the theft happened while the crew member was taking care of business and directing firefighting crews.

“To me, it’s just mind-boggling that somebody would have the audacity to do something like that,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart during a press briefing.

The stealing from a crew member comes after officials say they arrested five people for allegedly looting evacuated properties.

“It’s terrible and disgusting,” Chief Deputy Chris Clark with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said. “These five decided to victimize several of our community members who are already hurting.”

Now, firefighters and other local officials have to deal with people who don’t want to evacuated because they are afraid that if the fire doesn’t get them, the looters will. 

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes by the wildfires and criminals are organized and ready to steal what little these people have left.

A report in Stars and Stripes indicates that at last eight people have been arrested in conjunction with these crimes.  Santa Cruz County Sheriff, Jim Hart, said:

“More (arrests) are expected as the public reports a lot of looting going on.”

The report goes on to say that at least 100 officers are patrolling the zones and deputies are stopping any non-first-responder vehicles.

“I have no empathy, I have no patience for somebody who’s going to come into our community and steal from people who have been evacuated and victimized and traumatized,” Hart said during a news conference with county District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell. 

“I can’t imagine a bigger low-life,” Hart continued.

The Los Angeles Times report that roughly 77,000 have been evacuated in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, leaving ample opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of those already placed in a precarious situation.

In addition to the deadly fires (5 lives have been lost to date) and the looting, scammers abound. The Sheriff’s Offices for Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and Cal Fire, are warning people about scams pretending to be people from different official local agencies.

“If you get a call from any sort of official source, if you question the validity of it – and you should question the validity of those calls – contact the agency directly,” Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark said in an interview with KSBW

He said that calls are coming from people claiming that residents owe agencies such as PG&E, law enforcement or another agency money and that the calls are not legitimate.

Yes, scammers and looters are out in force, targeting law abiding citizens and those trying to help them through this tragic natural disaster.

Far be it from any of them to get a job, or try to help make the situation better.  As usual, these dregs of humanity think only of themselves.

In the meantime, as always, our faithful first responders are putting their lives on the line to try and mitigate the disastrous fires that have already claimed 771,000 California acres in 2020. 

The SCU Lightning Complex fire, where the officer had his wallet stolen, is responsible for 347,196 of those acres and is only 10% contained as of this writing.  Stats can be found for all California Fires at Cal Fire.

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