Deputies have arrested two men who they believe were looting homes in Oregon that had been evacuated due to the deadly wildfires on the West Coast.
The Beachie Creek Fire, which is smoldering in Clackamas and Marion Counties south of Portland, has burned 186,856 acres. In Marion County, officials have ordered 13,764 structures to be evacuated because they are at a Level 3 evacuation, which means “evacuate now” because there is current or imminent danger for the area.
With so many homes having been evacuated because of the massive fires, two Oregon men apparently tried to capitalize on the devastating natural disaster. Anthony Travis Bodda, 21, and Alexander Justin Jones, 36, were accused by police of looting evacuated homes in Marion County and taking deputies on a wild high-speed chase.
On Thursday, firefighting crews alerted police to a suspicious van in the towns of Detroit and Idahna, and were concerned that the vehicle could be involved with recent looting in the area.
Deputies responded just after 10 a.m. on Thursday, and the van drove off “at a high rate of speed.” Deputies from Marion and Linn Counties, as well as Oregon State Police, pursued the van in the Beachie Creek wildfire evacuation zone. The men attempted to ditch police by driving through a golf course.
Police used spike strips to disable the vehicle, then the men jumped out of the van and ran through the golf course. A police dog chased down the suspects. One was attempting to break into a home to escape the cops when he was apprehended. The other man was also tracked down by a K9 unit as he was entering a goat shed, according to police.
Bodda and Jones were both booked at the Marion County Jail and charged with attempted theft in the first degree, burglary in the second degree, felony elude, misdemeanor elude, reckless driving, interfering with a peace officer, possession of a burglary tool, reckless endangering, criminal mischief in the first degree, and criminal trespass in the second degree.
“I am disappointed that while in a state of emergency these people would victimize members of our community,” Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said. “The women and men of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office are committed to holding people accountable if they chose to victimize residents from our evacuated areas.”
He added that his officers would continue to patrol the evacuated areas to prevent any looting.
People in Oregon have said that their homes were looted during the deadly wildfires.
“Everything had been rifled through,” said Christy Beaver from Junction City. “Drawers were open. Stuff was all over. Credit cards and checkbooks were missing. We’re not sure what else is missing because we haven’t been able to go back up there.”
Blue River resident Marcie Costa said that she lost her home in the Holiday Farm Fire. Her neighbor’s home survived the fire, but possession worth more than $1,000 were stolen, including a generator.
“We’ve suffered enough these people have suffered enough,” Costa said. “We don’t need to be victimized anymore from someone who don’t give a stuff about us.”
“We understand that OSP and the Sheriff’s Department are doing the best that they can,” Costa said. “But they’re spread so thin.”
Rumors of widespread looting caused 300 people to attempt to return to their homes inside the fiery evacuation zone. The concerned residents left the Super 8 hotel in Redmond on Thursday to inspect their properties for fire damage and looting.
“All across the region, we are asking folks to please respect those closures,” said Kassidy Kern, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. “Not just for the security of your personal property, but also for firefighters working in the area.”