Despite persistent rumors, there have been no arrests or any evidence that the fires raging across Clackamas, Marion and Linn counties were the product of deliberate arson, multiple law enforcement officials said Thursday.
The Canby Current has received numerous reports of suspicious individuals or activity in the wildfire-impacted areas — often with overt references to Antifa (a movement comprised of loosely aligned anti-fascist groups) and Black Lives Matter, a movement protesting police violence against Black Americans.
“There have been messages left on equipment and outbuildings like ‘Privileged White…’ ‘BLM’ and the like,” one Macksburg-area resident told the Current Thursday. “Instead of starting fires in Portland, it sounds like there are some who are causing a lot of problems out here.”
These reports were of individuals reportedly starting fires in the Sawtell, Wilhoit and Dickey Prairie areas. Later Thursday, citizens reported that the Oregon State Police had arrested two fire-starters in the Molalla area, clad in “Antifa garb.”
“We have some one on watch patrol around the clock at our place and have pickup with water tank and pump ready if needed,” the same resident told us. “They are out looting and starting fires, get the word out.”
The Current was not able to confirm these specific reports with law enforcement in Clackamas County. OSP has no record of any arrests in Clackamas County Thursday.
Likewise, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed late Thursday night that they had made no arson-related arrests. The Current was also unable to obtain photo verification of the BLM or other racist messaging that had been reportedly left at homes in the evacuated areas.
“We do want to make sure these reports are being sent to us rather than being passed around online,” said Sgt. Marcus Mendoza, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
Anyone witnessing or possessing information on any criminal activity in Clackamas County can contact the Sheriff’s Office by calling 911 (for emergencies only) or by calling the non-emergency line at 503-655-8211.
Tips on suspected criminal activity can also be submitted to the Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 503-723-4949 or clackamas.us/sheriff/tip.
In a Clackamas County press conference earlier Thursday, Sheriff Craig Roberts was also asked about the rumors of arson. Roberts said that his office has no evidence of arson or that any of the fires that have broken out this week were the result of human activity.
“There’ll be an in-depth investigation looking at all the possibilities and anything that might come forward regarding that,” the sheriff said, “but at this particular point in time, there is nothing conclusive that would direct us to that.”
Lance Lighty, incident commander for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office, later echoed his comments saying “nothing at this point … would lead us to suspect that we have manmade fires.”
There have, however, been confirmed incidents of looting and arson in other areas. Two men were arrested near Detroit Thursday after being connected to several looting incidents during the Beachie Creek Fire.
And a machete-armed man was charged with starting a series of fires in Douglas County — though this occurred in July, not this week.
Law enforcement did not specify a connection to Antifa or the BLM movement in either case.
The Molalla Police Department posted on Facebook Wednesday in an attempt to defuse the flood of Antifa-related false reports its dispatchers have received this week — in the wake of a widely shared post on the Molalla NOW Facebook group that falsely identified two freelance photographers from Portland (one of whom happened to be a Molalla High School grad) as Antifa arsonists.
“This is about possible looters, not antifa or setting of fires,” Molalla PD said in the updated post early Thursday morning. “There has been NO antifa in town as of this posting at 02:00 am. Please, folks, stay calm and use common sense. Stay inside or leave the area.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was also forced to address its own false rumors this week, amid widely spread claims that its officers had arrested six Antifa members for fire-starting. (They have not.)
“THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems,” the sheriff’s office said. “Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS! Follow official sources of information such as local emergency response websites and pages, government websites and pages and local reputable news outlets.”
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