Portland, OR – A suspect accused of using a Molotov cocktail to start a brush fire near an Oregon interstate went out and started six more fires shortly after he was released from jail, according to police.
At least 35 people have died as the result of massive blazes that have been ravaging much of the West Coast, USA Today reported.
At approximately 4:35 on Sept. 13, Portland police were dispatched to the 9600-block of East Burnside Street to help firefighters with a brush fire that had ignited in a grassy area alongside Interstate 205, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) said in a press release.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames before they spread to nearby structures.
Approximately one hour later, a PPB East Precinct officer was flagged down by someone who said they saw the suspect who started the fire, police said.
The witness directed them to a tent in the area, and officers found 45-year-old Domingo Lopez inside.
Lopez allegedly admitted that he started the blaze using a Molotov cocktail, the PPB said.
Officers also allegedly found another plastic bottle with a wick in his possession.
Lopez was arrested on charges of second-degree disorderly conduct and reckless burning, the PPB said.
He was released without bail from the Multnomah County Detention Center shortly thereafter, and headed out to start more fires along the interstate, according to police.
Officers and firefighters were dispatched to six fires burning along Interstate 205 at approximately 3:37 a.m. on Monday, the PPB said.
Community members were able to extinguish three of the blazes, while firefighters put out the other three.
“All were caught early,” the PPB said. “No one was injured and no structures were burnt.”
Police spotted Lopez walking along the shoulder of the interstate and placed him under arrest yet again.
He had a lighter in his possession at the time, police said.
Lopez was cited for six more counts of reckless burning before he was transported to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation, according to the PPB.
Law enforcement officers in Washington, Oregon, and California have arrested multiple other accused arsonists since Sept. 1.
Among them was 44-year-old Elias Newton Pendergrass, who has been accused of first-degree arson in connection with the Sweet Creek Fires, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon announced in a Facebook post.
On Sept. 8, a suspect ignited two brush fires in Oregon’s Dexter State Recreation Area, KMTR reported.
Witnesses caught the middle-aged suspect in the act, and told police he took off in a green SUV.
The witnesses were able to get the fires out before first responders arrived, KMTR reported.
Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, was arrested near a residential area in Phoenix, Oregon, after residents saw him lighting a fire behind their home on Sept. 8, ABC News reported.
Bakkela remained at the scene after law enforcement officers arrived.
By that time, the blaze was threatening multiple homes.
“There are numerous homes, many of which are burnt completely, some are just heavily damaged,” Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Pubic Information Officer Mike Moran told ABC News.
The fire allegedly started by Bakkela eventually met up with the larger Almeda Fire, according to investigators.
Bakkela, who was on probation for a methamphetamine conviction when he allegedly set the blaze, has been charged with 14 counts of reckless endangering and 15 counts of criminal mischief, ABC News reported.
Police in Spokane, Washington, arrested 36-year-old Christine Comello for allegedly starting at least two fires in the area, KHQ reported.
Witnesses told police they saw Comello start one fire outside a commercial business, and accused her of setting a second fire next to an oil drum beneath a tree, police said.
She has been charged with first-degree arson, second-degree arson, and burglary, KHQ reported.
Comello also had an active warrant for reckless burning and burglary, which was tied to a prior incident involving her allegedly setting fires at a Spokane Valley business several weeks earlier, according to YakTriNews.
Washington State Patrol (WSP) District 1 Public Information Officer Trooper Ryan Burke announced in a tweet on Sept. 9 that officers from multiple jurisdictions apprehended a 36-year-old man for setting a fire in the median of SR-167 in Puyallup.
The Gateway Pundit identified the suspect as Jeffrey Accord, a local Black Lives Matter activist.
In California, highway patrol troopers arrested 37-year-old Anita Esquivel for allegedly starting an unspecified number of fires in the area of Highway 101 near Boronda Road at about 9 a.m. on Sept. 7, KION reported.
Esquivel has been charged with arson.
In addition to dealing with the threat of approaching fires, residents inside some evacuation zones have become increasingly concerned about looting and break-ins, CNN reported.
Some Clackamas County, Oregon homeowners have chosen to stay behind in order to “defend” their properties, according to the news outlet.
Many homes have handmade signs posted out front, warning looters that they will be shot if they target those properties, CNN reported.
According to Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, dispatchers have received a 400 percent increase in the number of calls about suspicious individuals since the start of the wildfires.
Some of those calls have resulted in arrests, although Sheriff Roberts did not provide details about how many suspects have been arrested and what types of crimes they’ve been accused of committing.
Some residents have been conducting armed checkpoints to investigate people in vehicles that they do not recognize as belonging to a community member, according to the sheriff.
“The first thing I’d ask them to do is please stop that,” Sheriff Roberts said during a press conference on Sunday, according to CNN. “It is illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint.”
“The last thing I want to see is anything tragically happen because somebody is overreacting to something,” Sheriff Roberts added.
During an emergency Clackamas County Board of County Commissioner’s meeting on Sept. 10, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Smith said that one of the department’s sergeants had been told that people had been cutting down telephone poles with chainsaws in order to start new fires, CNN reported.
Capt. Smith said there have also been “confirmed reports” of looting and burglaries in the area.
“There’s reports of….and this is not specific to an area, but all over the county, both outlying and even closer into town of people of extremist groups staging gas cans for later destruction,” the captain added.
One of the commissioners urged the chairman to “appeal to the governor to call in the National Guard” to help local law enforcement.
The commissioners ultimately opted to hold off on requesting troops for the time being.
Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Portland released a statement on Friday saying that reports that extremists have been setting wildfires in Oregon are “untrue.”
“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,” the FBI said. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”
A total of 25 wildfires remained active in California on Monday, having burned over 2.55 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Just one of those blazes has been contained.
Thirteen fires – one of which has been contained – raged across Oregon, burning over 860,000 acres.
Washington state was battling 15 wildfires on Monday, one of which has been contained.
Over 680,000 acres of the Evergreen State has been left in ashes.
In addition to the fires burning in California, Oregon, and Washington, crews are also battling blazes in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, the National Interagency Fire Center said on Monday.
Over 26,000 firefighters and support personnel are currently fighting a total of 87 large-scale fires that have burned over 4.6 million acres in 10 states so far.