Four people have been arrested for arson for deliberately starting blazes along the West Coast as the death toll from the devastating wildfires climbed to 29 and Oregon officials warned they are prepare for a ‘mass fatality event’.
Two men in Washington state, one man in Oregon and one woman in California are facing arson charges for setting fires in areas that were already grappling with deadly blazes.
At least 20 have been killed in California, eight in Oregon and one in Washington state as thousands of firefighters struggle to bring the blazes under control and the governors of California and Oregon told residents to expect more fatalities in the coming days.
Oregon’s emergency management director, Andrew Phelps, said officials are ‘preparing for a mass fatality event’ as more than one million acres have been scorched, thousands of structures have been destroyed and 10 percent of the population have been forced to flee from the dozens of blazes ravaging the state.
Hundreds of firefighters battled two large wildfires Friday that threatened to merge near the most populated part of the state, including the suburbs of Portland, causing the city to declare a state of emergency Thursday.
Farm equipment is seen through heavy smoke on Friday in Molalla, Oregon. Multiple wildfires grew by hundreds of thousands of acres this week, prompting large-scale evacuations throughout the state
Boaters pass by the Seattle skyline during hazy air conditions on Friday morning as smoke pollution from wildfires raging in California and across the Pacific Northwest worsened in San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon
Volunteer Elizabeth Stoltz of Heisson waters the Fort Vancouver Garden in Vancouver, Washington, on Friday
The Bobcat Fire burns down trees in the Angeles National Forest on Friday in Monrovia, California
The map above shows 103 fires that have already burned more than 3.4 million acres across the western United States
Oregon authorities announced arson charges Friday against a 41-year-old man for starting a blaze in the hard-hit state, where at least eight have been killed and dozens remain missing.
Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, was arrested Friday and charged with two counts of arson, 15 counts of criminal mischief and 14 counts of reckless endangering for allegedly setting a fire in southern Oregon earlier this week, while the area was already grappling with the deadly Almeda Fire.
The blaze grew to merge with the Almeda – which started about six hours earlier – and has now killed at least two people.
Bakkela was allegedly spotted setting a fire behind a home in Phoenix around 5 p.m. Tuesday, causing the residents to flee.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said deputies arrived on the scene to find Bakkela ‘standing close to a very large fire threatening several homes.’
Authorities said the fire started by Bakkela caused ‘significant damage’ and destroyed ‘numerous homes’.
Bakkela was arrested Tuesday for a probation violation on a charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and was later charged Friday in connection with the Almeda Fire.
He is booked at the Jackson County Jail and is expected to be arraigned Monday.
Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, was arrested Friday and charged with arson, for allegedly setting a fire in southern Oregon earlier this week, while the area was already grappling with the deadly Almeda Fire
Anita Esquivel was arrested and booked in to Monterey County Jail on arson charges for starting fires in California
In California, a 37-year-old woman was also arrested Friday accused of intentionally starting an unknown number of fires on Highway 101 near Boronda Road around 9am Friday morning.
Anita Esquivel was arrested and booked in to Monterey County Jail on arson charges.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office later dismissed rumors that she had ties to extreme left-wing activist group Antifa.
The Office told KION there was no information or evidence suggesting she was connected to the group.
This comes after officials have sought to quash unsubstantiated rumors circulating online that wildfires have been intentionally set by extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing groups.
Two other men were arrested for starting blazes in Washington state this week, authorities confirmed.
A 36-year-old Puyallup resident was arrested Wednesday for allegedly starting a fire on State Route 167 at Meridian.
The next day another unidentified man was detained following a short cop chase on foot over a blaze the man allegedly started at State Route 512 and State Route 7.
This comes as Oregon authorities said Thursday they are investigating whether the cause of the Almeda Fire that has killed two was an arson attack after a body was discovered near the start of the blaze.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara announced Thursday a criminal investigation has been opened into the cause of the fire saying he believes the circumstances around the fire are ‘suspicious’.
Investigators are looking into the possible connection between the blaze and the death of an unidentified individual, whose body was found near the origin of the fire.
This comes as the National Weather Service (NWS) revealed a staggering 87 percent of all wildfires that have ravaged America this year were caused by humans.
Shawn Thompson hugs Melissa Vuckovich after an unsuccessful search for their missing cat, at the location of where their home once stood in Ashland Oregon
Firefighters work on a smoldering fire in a burned neighborhood in Talent, Oregon. Four people have been arrested for arson for deliberately starting blazes along the West Coast
Talent Oregon on Friday. Two men in Washington state, one man in Oregon and one woman in California are facing arson charges for setting fires in areas that were already grappling with deadly blazes
Search and rescue personnel from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office look for the possible remains of a missing elderly resident in a mobile home park in Ashland, Oregon, on Friday
Hundreds of homes in Ashland and nearby towns have been lost due to wildfire. Oregon state authorities believe the wildfires are a ‘mass fatality event’
Oregon Gov. Brown said 500,000 Oregonians were in some sort of evacuation zone Friday – a slight dialing back on a statement late Thursday issued by the state Office of Emergency Management that said a half-million people had been ordered to evacuate statewide.
Dozens of people are missing in Jackson County in the south and Marion County, where a fire continues to burn east of Salem, Brown told a news conference Friday.
The Oregon Convention Center in Portland was among the buildings being transformed into shelters for evacuees.
Portland, shrouded in smoke from the fires, on Friday had the worst air quality of the world’s major cities, according to IQAir.
National Guard troops and corrections officers transferred about 1,300 inmates from a women’s prison in a southern suburb of Portland ‘out of an abundance of caution,’ the Oregon Department of Corrections said.
Spokeswoman Vanessa Vanderzee said it took 20 hours to transfer the inmates Thursday to another prison in a safe zone.
Derek Trenton from Talent, Oregon, salvages some items at his parents home as wildfires devastate the region on Friday
Marty Hogan, who evacuated from outside Oregon City, holds his chicken, Oddball, near his trailer in the Clackamas Town Center parking lot on Friday in Clackamas, Oregon
Eagle Point resident Joey Delcerro, whose family was displaced by the South Obenchain Fire, helps his daughter Charlie, 5, carry a bag of dog food from a makeshift donation organized by mothers from the Rogue Valley in White City, Oregon, on Friday
Eagle Point resident Charlie Delcerro, 5, whose family was displayed by the South Obenchain Fire, plays with toys at a makeshift donation
Oregon firefighters work behind caution tape in Mill City, Oregon, on Thursday as they battle the Santiam Fire
A change in the weather, with winds dropping and shifting direction and humidity rising, greatly helped firefighters struggling to prevent two fires – one burning southeast of Portland and the other east of Salem, the state capital – from advancing farther west into more-populated areas.
‘The wind laid down quite a bit for us yesterday. There also wasn’t that strong eastern wind that was pushing the fire more to the west,’ said Stefan Myers of the state’s fire information team.
Winds coming from the Pacific Ocean also neutralized the fires’ advance and even pushed them back, Myers said.
Almost 500 personnel were working on the fires, which were just a few miles (kilometers) apart, with rugged terrain between them that limits boots-on-the-ground efforts to keep them apart, Myers said.
If they merge, they could generate such heat that it causes embers to fly thousands of feet into the air, potentially igniting other areas, Myers said.
The high number of fires occurring simultaneously in the span of just a few days in Oregon was fueled by dry conditions, high temperatures and especially strong, swirling winds.
Brown said Thursday that more than 1,400 square miles have burned in Oregon over the past three days, nearly double the land that burns in a typical year in the state and an area greater than the size of Rhode Island.
Oregon officials haven’t released an exact death count for the wildfires, but at least five fatalities have been reported in the state.
A one-year-old boy was killed in wildfires in Washington.
A camp crew truck was destroyed on Stringtown Road in a Thursday evening flare-up in Oroville, California, which burned over the truck in the Bear Fire
A firefighting jet tanker drops fire retardant on the Bobcat Fire at the Angeles National Forest on Friday
The Bobcat Fire has grown to more than 26,000 acres and was just 6 per cent contained as of Friday
A fallen tree burns during the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest near Monrovia, California, on Friday
Firefighters check along a ridge as the Bobcat Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest near Monrovia, California, on Friday
More than 4,844 square miles – or 3.1 million acres – have burned in California this year, more than in any other fire season in the state’s recorded history
Six fires this year are on the top 20 list of largest fires in state history, including the largest, which is the August Complex Fire
Firefighters from Vandenberg Air Force Base monitor a controlled burn to help slow the Dolan Fire at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur, California, on Friday
A firefighter shoots an incendiary device during a back burn to help control the Dolan Fire at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur, California, on Friday
A firefighter with Vandenberg Air Force Base, throws an incendiary device during a back burn to help control the Dolan Fire in Big Sur, California, on Friday
Flames consume dry brush around City of Santa Barbara firefighters setting a backfire along Oro Quincy Highway in the aftermath of the Bear Fire on Thursday
Embers swirl around City of Santa Barbara firefighter Mark Kramer as his crew sets a backfire along Oro Quincy Highway on Thursday
The North Complex fire near Oroville, California, that exploded in wind-driven flames earlier in the week was advancing more slowly Friday after the winds eased and smoke from the blaze shaded the area and lowered the temperature, authorities said
The North Complex fire tore through Sierra Nevada foothills so quickly that fire crews were nearly engulfed, locals fled for their lives to a pond, and the town of Berry Creek, population 525, and other communities were gutted
Boats are shrouded in smoke and ash at Loafer Point on Lake Oroville in the aftermath of the Bear Fire on Thursday
The Bobcat Fire burns down trees in the Angeles National Forest on Friday in Monrovia, California
Mormon Lake Hotshots firefighter Sara Sweeney uses a drip torch to set a backfire to protect mountain communities from the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
California wildfires that have already incinerated a record 2.3 million acres this year and are expected to continue until December
A Northern California fire that tore through several hamlets in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada this week killed 10 people, making it the deadliest of the year.
In Oregon, evacuation centers opened across the state.
Kim Carbaugh fled from her home in Lyons with her husband, two children and two horses Monday.
‘When we were driving away and I could see actual fire, the red and orange flames, at the time I didn’t feel scared, I had so much adrenaline – we just had to leave,’ she said Friday from the livestock stables of the evacuation center at the State Fairgrounds in Salem.
One fire approached Molalla, triggering a mandatory evacuation order for the community of about 9,000 located 30 miles south of Portland.
A police car rolled through the streets with a loudspeaker blaring ‘evacuate now.’
With the two large fires – called the Beachie Fire and the Riverside Fire – threatening to merge, some firefighters in Clackamas County, which encompasses Molalla, were told to disengage temporarily Thursday because of the danger.
Officials tried to reassure residents who abandoned their homes and law enforcement officials said police patrols would be stepped up to prevent looting.
The change in weather also aided efforts to contain a fire near Lincoln City, on the Oregon Coast, that according to an estimate has damaged or destroyed at least 100 structures.
‘Thank God, we got a wind shift. The wind started coming from the west, pushing the fire back towards the east, and that’s what kept it within its footprint and kept it from growing,’ fire spokesperson Ashley Lertora said.
Oregon’s congressional delegation announced Friday that the White House has approved the state’s request for an emergency declaration that will help provide immediate assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said Friday that a 41-year-old man was jailed on two charges of arson for a fire that started Tuesday in the Phoenix area in southern Oregon.
Sickler said the Almeda fire, which burned hundreds of homes, had ignition points in Ashland near the spot where a man was found dead, and in Phoenix.
Authorities said the man was arrested at the second ignition point in Phoenix and that he denied starting the fire.
‘Stop spreading rumors!’ Law enforcement pleads with residents not to believe Oregon fires were started by antifa, Proud Boys
Emergency responders in the Pacific Northwest are fighting misinformation along with raging wildfires as people spread unsubstantiated social media posts blaming coordinated groups of arsonists from both the far left and far right for setting the blazes.
The FBI said Friday that it’s investigated several claims and found them to be untrue, while officials in Oregon and Washington state have turned to Facebook to knock down the competing narratives – some posts blamed far-left antifa activists and others claimed the far-right group the Proud Boys was responsible for the fires scorching wide swaths of the region.
‘I am physically and emotionally exhausted. We’ve been working really hard to protect people’s lives and homes,’ firefighter Matt Lowery wrote Thursday night on the Facebook page for the East Pierce Fire & Rescue union south of Seattle.
‘I also want to address an issue that keeps coming up, even from some of the public that we are talking to while working. It is hot, dry, and fire spreads quickly in those conditions. There is nothing to show its Antifa or Proud Boys setting fires. Wait for information.’
The Mason County Sheriff’s Office urged Washington residents to stop spreading rumors as isolated incidents of apparent arson led to widespread, unfounded claims that antifa agitators were conspiring to start fires along the West Coast.
Several social media accounts with wide followings have been pushing unsubstantiated rumors about arsonists lighting fires in Oregon, Washington, and California
Paul Romero, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, tweeted without evidence that members of antifa were arrested for arson
Antifa is short for anti-fascists, a range of far-left militant groups that oppose white supremacists.
‘Though some agencies have made arrests related to arson recently, they appear to all be separate individuals, however as with many incidents, it will be an ongoing investigation in each jurisdiction,’ the agency wrote Thursday night on Facebook.
While some arson arrests have been made, it’s not yet clear how all the scores of fires in Washington state and Oregon started.
Officials say high winds and dry conditions have made them worse in a region with a cool, wet climate that’s historically protected it from intense fire activity.
Both Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have called the wildfires ‘unprecedented.’
The false claims come as left- and right-wing groups have clashed during protests in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Portland, Oregon, where a caravan of President Donald Trump’s supporters drove pickup trucks through the liberal city last month.
An antifa supporter shot and killed a member of a right-wing group and was fatally shot by Washington state authorities a week later.
Local law enforcement agencies have posted messages urging members of the public to stop spreading rumors
The FBI said it worked with local authorities to investigate claims that extremists set wildfires and found them to be false.
‘Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,’ an FBI statement said.
‘Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.’
Officials in Oregon also debunked claims this week of widespread arrests affiliated with the Proud Boys or antifa.
‘Remember when we said to follow official sources only,’ the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office posted Thursday.
‘Remember when we said rumors make this already difficult incident even harder? Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON.’
Medford, Oregon, police knocked down a fake graphic spreading online that used the department’s logo and a photo from an unrelated 2018 arrest to falsely claim five Proud Boys had been arrested for arson.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also asking the public to ‘share information from trusted, official sources’
‘Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away [from] local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,’ the FBI said
A social media post shared widely on Thursday featured a picture of a woman along with claims that she tried to start a fire near a high school in Springfield, Oregon.
Springfield police told The Associated Press that they spoke to the woman Wednesday and that wasn’t true.
Another post claimed a landowner called police after arsonists threw Molotov cocktails on his land in Clackamas County and they got into a shootout.
The Clackamas County Sheriff´s Office told the AP that no such reports existed.
Freelance journalist Justin Yau tweeted Thursday that he was told to leave the small town of Molalla, Oregon, by an ‘armed group’ that feared outsiders after seeing rumors of arson nearby.
Thousands of Twitter and Facebook users shared posts trying to link the fires to antifa activists, including from Paul Romero, a former Republican candidate for US Senate in Oregon.
Reached by phone, Romero blamed the surge in fires statewide on a coordinated ‘army of arsonists’ but offered no evidence to support that claim.
The posts also are being shared by social media accounts associated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory centered on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the so-called deep state and a child sex trafficking ring.
Police are investigating a fire that originated in Ashland, Oregon, as a potential arson after finding human remains, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler told reporters Wednesday.
However, Ashland Deputy Police Chief Art LeCours confirmed to the AP that the case has ‘no connection whatsoever to antifa.’
The Jackson County Sheriff´s Office hasn’t made any arrests and its investigation shows no evidence at this point of a coordinated effort, spokesman Mike Moran said.
‘These investigations take time,’ he said.
‘They’re intense. They’re fast moving. And so people ought to consider: “Does this even make sense?”
‘They should question anything they see in a social media setting.’
Police are still investigating the first ignition point in Ashland.
In southern Oregon near the California state line, much of the small town of Phoenix was wiped out.
A mobile home park, houses and businesses were burned, leaving twisted remains on charred ground.
Many of the residents were immigrants, with few resources to draw on.
Artemio Guterrez, a single father of four, had been at work at a vineyard when he saw thick smoke spreading through Rogue River Valley.
He snatched his kids to safety. They escaped with only the clothes they were wearing.
‘I’m going to start all over again. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either,’ said Guterrez.
In a news conference Friday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee noted that the amount of land burned in just the past five days amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015.
He called the blazes ‘climate fires’ rather than wildfires.
‘This is not an act of God,’ Inslee said.
‘This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways.’
More than 68,000 people were under evacuation orders in California where the largest fire in state history has burned over 740,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest around 120 miles northwest of Sacramento.
Firefighters monitor the advance of the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest has burned for at least six days and destroyed more than 26,000 acres
Fire retardant from a Coulson 737 firefighting tanker jet falls on a forest to slow the Bobcat Fire at the top of a major run up a mountainside in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
The Bobcat Fire started near the Cogswell Dam and then spread rapidly thanks to conditions caused by a record-breaking heat wave
An air attack plane flies by the plume as the Bobcat Fire advances in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
Los Angeles County and US Forest Service firefighting helicopters flew overnight to keep the southern edge of the blaze ‘in-check,’ Angeles National Forest officials said
A Coulson 737 firefighting tanker jet drops fire retardant to slow Bobcat Fire at the top of a major run up a mountainside in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday
The charred remains of the Gates Elementary School, which was being used as a staging ground by firefighters, are seen after the passage of the Santiam Fire in Gates, Oregon, on Thursday
Members of the Mormon Hot Shots from Arizona lay hose line down rugged terrain off Highway 39 near Crystal Lake in front of the Bobcat Fire on Thursday
A lone kayaker is seen on the Willamette River in the town of West Linn, Oregon, on Thursday
‘We had four hours to pack up our pets and a few medications and things like that,’ said retiree John Maylone from an evacuation center in Fresno, California, after he was forced to leave three of his 30 cats as he fled the massive Creek Fire.
Paradise, a town blasted by California’s deadliest wildfire in 2018, had the world’s worst air quality index reading at 592, according to the PurpleAir monitoring site, as two of the state’s largest blazes burned on either side of it.
California Governor Gavin Newsom offered some of his most impassioned comments on climate change, denouncing the ‘ideological BS’ of those who deny the danger and vowing Friday to accelerate the state’s already ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gasses.
Newsom spoke against a backdrop of ghost-like trees and ground covered in snow-like gray ash left by the deadliest of the record-breaking fires that have charred huge swaths of California in recent weeks.
‘The data is self-evident, the experience that we have in the state of California just underscoring the reality of the ravages of climate change,’ he said.
‘Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry. She bats last and she bats one thousand. That’s the reality we’re facing, the smash mouth reality – this perfect storm. The debate is over around climate change.’
Two Republican state lawmakers who represent the Northern California region where Newsom spoke countered that the governor is using climate change as an excuse for years of failed policies by fellow Democrats who control nearly all aspects of California government.
The state’s former governor, Jerry Brown, who championed combating climate change, said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press that the massive fires in the West may get more people thinking about the role of climate change ‘as they cough and choke on this terrible air.’
But he said it won’t change the minds of those who view global warming as fiction.
‘This is not enough,’ he said.
‘But don’t worry, we´re going to have this over and over, with hurricanes, with flooding of subways in places in Florida and New Orleans and Texas,’ he said.
‘The weather is changing, and human beings can´t snap their fingers and tell the weather: ‘Don’t change’,’ said Brown, who left office last year and now serves as chairman of the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
‘The weather is changing because of the chemicals that human beings are putting into the air all over the world.’
Newsom was more blunt, saying ‘unless we get our act together on climate change, unless we disabuse ourselves of all the BS that’s being spewed by a very small group of people,’ then time to take action will be lost.
Newsom noted that just in the last month, California had its hottest August, with world-record-setting heat in Death Valley.
It had 14,000 dry lightning strikes that set off hundreds of fires, some that combined into creating five of the 10 largest fires in the state’s recorded history.
Olivia Nunn of Molalla, Oregon, visits with her horse Winston at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield, Washington, on Friday. Her family evacuated Thursday as the fires began to get near her home and the ranch where they board their horses.
Desiree Pierce cries as she visits her home destroyed by the Almeda Fire on Friday in Talent, Oregon
Desiree Pierce cries as she visits her home destroyed by the Almeda Fire on Friday in Talent, Oregon. ‘I just needed to see it, to get some closure,’ said Pierce
Desiree Pierce (right) hugs her step daughter Leah Johnson as they visit their home destroyed by the Almeda Fire
Pink fire retardant covers a car at an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, on Friday
A man walks through a neighborhood destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, on Friday
Rubble remains from an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, on Friday
Desiree Pierce reacts as she observers what remains of her home which was destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, on Friday
A flag flies in a neighborhood destroyed by the Almeda Fire in Phoenix, Oregon, on Friday
Governor Kate Brown said more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, either having been told to leave or to prepare to do so. A destroyed neighborhood in Talent, Oregon, is seen above on Friday
A man takes a picture at a neighborhood that was devastated by the Almeda Fire in Talent, Oregon, on Friday
Oregon’s emergency management director, Andrew Phelps, said officials are ‘preparing for a mass fatality event’ and that thousands of structures have been destroyed
A change in the weather, with winds dropping and shifting direction and humidity rising, greatly helped firefighters struggling to prevent two fires – one burning southeast of Portland and the other east of Salem, the state capital – from advancing farther west into more-populated areas
And it had back-to-back heat waves stretching through the Labor Day weekend.
California already is leading the nation in lowering its carbon output, Newsom said, but ‘we’re going to have to do more and we’re going to have to fast-track our efforts.’
The state’s ambitious goal of using 100% clean energy by 2045 ‘is inadequate,’ Newsom argued.
‘We’re going to have to be more aggressive in terms of meeting our goals much sooner.’
He said the state must push to more quickly adopt electric vehicles and other non-polluting transportation, and ordered the heads of his environmental protection and natural resources agencies to explore more changes to the state’s industrial and agricultural policies.
Newsom finally called for voters to unseat politicians ‘across the spectrum’ who deny the effects of climate change, saying he was not just criticizing President Donald Trump.
Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher countered that the cause of recent devastating wildfires and electricity blackouts ‘is decades of bad policy enacted by Democrats, not climate change.’
‘The excuse of climate change cannot be used to deflect from the fundamental failure to address the fuels build-up in our forests that are the cause of these devastating fires,’ they said in a statement.
‘These same misguided policy decisions have led to rolling blackouts and an energy grid that is falling apart.’