As fire burns across Oregon in a way not seen in living memory, some people trying to escape find themselves being menaced by gunmen who say they are slowing the mandated evacuation to “deter looting.” Any car a person at a checkpoint doesn’t recognize will be stopped with the threat of bullets, according to a report by CNN.
“The first thing I’d ask them to do is please stop that,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said at a news conference on Sunday. “It is illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint.” Roberts has explained this to “a number of them,” but complaints of the criminal “checkpoints” continue.
“The last thing I want to see is anything tragically happen because somebody is overreacting to something,” Roberts said. His office is currently receiving four times as many calls as in a normal week, from people who claim to see looters in evacuation areas. A few cases of actual looting have been found, but almost all reports have proven to be unfounded.
Some people who left immediately after the evacuation order have returned hoping to salvage items from their homes before the fire reached them. This unlawful return is made even more dangerous when people are perceived as stealing from their own homes.
On Monday evening, most of Clackamas County remained under an evacuation order as crews fought four fires: in Oregon City near Redland and Potter Road, in the Colton area near Unger Road, in the Molalla area near Wilhoit and Bird Road, and at Beachie Creek. Most county residents have evacuated, but a few intend to defend their homes against possible looters, setting up hastily-made signs bearing dire warnings for anyone approaching.
Besides rumors of looting, even more colorful tales are circulating that the fires are not the result of global warming causing an unusually long and hot dry season and more powerful winds, but are the work of politically-motivated arsonists. These rumored terrorists are sometimes identified as the far-right “Proud Boys” who have caused a great deal of turmoil in Portland, but more often as “AntiFa,” the catch-all term for leftist anti-Fascist groups, some of which have been accused of committing various acts of violence.
The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting to decide whether to impose a curfew. At the meeting, Captain Jeff Smith of the Sheriff’s office said AntiFa members were carrying chainsaws, planning to fell telephone poles in order to start more fires. Dubious Commissioners asked Smith for the source of his claim, and he said he had heard it from an unnamed Sergeant who had heard it from unnamed sources “on the street.” Smith also said he’d received reports of looting in parts of the County, but the Sheriff’s office has not confirmed this claim, either.
Reports of arsonists in other counties have all been denied by their respective Sheriffs, and the Portland office of the FBI said, “reports that extremists are setting wildfires in Oregon are untrue.”