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Two men are arrested for looting homes left empty after 500,000 evacuated Oregon wildfires


Two men have been charged by Oregon authorities with looting properties that were evacuated by owners fleeing the deadly wildfires that have so far forced half-a-million people from their homes, killed at least 31 people in three states, and left dozens more missing.

Anthony Travis Bodda, 21, and Alexander Justin Jones, 36, were arrested on Thursday after they allegedly led law enforcement officials on a high-speed chase in fire-ravaged Santiam Canyon, Oregon, authorities said.

‘I am disappointed that while in a state of emergency these people would victimize members of our community,’ Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said.

Anthony Travis Bodda, 21, and Alexander Justin Jones, 36, were arrested on Thursday and charged after they allegedly looted homes that were evacuated due to the wildfires in Marion County, Oregon

Sheryl Christian rests on a cot with her mother Pat Skundrick at the evacuation center set up at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on Saturday in Central Point, Oregon

Margi Wyatt reacts after returning to find her mobile home destroyed by wildfire as her husband Marcelino Maceda (background) searches in the ruins in Estacada, Oregon, on Saturday

Margi Wyatt (right) is comforted by mobile home park manager Valerie after Wyatt returned to the R.V. park to find her home destroyed by wildfire in Estacada, Oregon, on Saturday

James Smith hugs his dog Rose after returning to his evacuated home to find looters had stolen his motorcycles in Estacada, Oregon, on Saturday

Don and Carrie Rascal from Phoenix, Oregon, rest on a cot with their dog at the evacuation center set up at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on Saturday in Central Point, Oregon

In this aerial view from a drone, homes destroyed by wildfire are seen on Saturday in Talent, Oregon. Hundreds of homes in Talent and nearby towns have been lost due to wildfire

‘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.’

Sheriff’s deputies said they were responding to a report of a suspicious van near the city of Detroit, Oregon, just east of Salem.

Deputies spotted the van driving at a high rate of speed near the Gates region.

The two men are then alleged to have fled police on a highway and then drove through a nearby golf course.

Deputies managed to set up spike strips which punctured the tires and neutralized the van.

Satellite image shows smoke from wildfires in Oregon, California, and Washington State on Saturday

Mary Thomson (left) from Phoenix, Oregon, gets assistance from Salvation Army officer Tawnya Stumpf at the evacuation center set up at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point, Oregon, on Saturday

Oregon Governor Kate Brown toured the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem on Saturday where she spoke with volunteers and evacuees

Mary Thomson (left) from Phoenix, Oregon, receives a hot meal from the Salvation Army Disaster relief truck at the evacuation center set up at the Jackson County Fairgrounds on Saturday in Central Point, Oregon

Amid a shortage of firefighters, Christine VanOeveren (right) throws water on a hotspot on a fire line near Molalla, Oregon, as Melissa Rose prepares another bucket load

Marcelino Maceda looks for items in the remains of his mobile home after a wildfire swept through the R.V. park destroying multiple homes in Estacada, Oregon, on Saturday

Mark Mousseaux sorts through the burned remains of his house in a neighborhood burned by the Almeda fire in the town of Phoenix in southern Oregon on Saturday

George Coble carries a bucket of water to put out a tree still smoldering on his property destroyed by a wildfire in Mill City, Oregon, on Saturday

Erik Tucker pours water on a smoldering stump in an area around his home burned by the Beachie Creek Fire in Lyons, Oregon, on Saturday

Jennifer Harper (right) gets a hug from her friend Staci O’Shea as they stand in the driveway of Harper’s burned home in a subdivision in Phoenix in southern Oregon on Saturday

The above image taken on Saturday shows an aerial view of the Samuel Lane Loop, a neighborhood completely devastated by the Almeda fire in southern Oregon

Residents console each other as they sift through the remnants of their home in Phoenix, Oregon, on Saturday

The Samuel Lane Loop neighborhood in Phoenix Oregon was completely devastated by the Almeda fire. Residents had only minutes to evacuate the fast moving fire.

Search and rescue personnel search for the remains of fire victims in the Bear Lakes Estates neighborhood which was left devastated by the Almeda fire in Phoenix, Oregon, on Saturday

The two men then got out of the van and made a run for it, according to sheriff’s deputies.

One of the men was immediately arrested on the golf course while the other was seen going into a goat shed near the area.

A K9 unit managed to locate the other suspect, who was also taken into custody.

The two men were taken to Marion County Jail and were charged with attempted theft, burglary, reckless driving, interfering with a peace officer, criminal mischief, and reckless endangerment.

The death toll from the fires in California, Oregon and Washington stood at 31 and was expected to rise sharply. Most of the fatalities were in California and Oregon.

In Oregon alone, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, Governor Kate Brown said on Saturday.

The remains of a US Forestry Department building after it was destroyed by the Bear Fire in Berry Creek, California, are pictured on Saturday

North Valley Disaster Group animal rescuers put out water and food for a small fox spotted along the roadside in Berry Creek, California, on Saturday

The remains of a US Forestry Department building after it was destroyed by the Bear Fire in Berry Creek, California, are seen above on Saturday

Fires along Oregon’s Cascade Range grew Saturday, but at a slower rate than earlier in the week, when strong easterly winds acted like a bellows, pushing two large fires – the Beachie Creek Fire and the Riverside Fire – toward each other and the state’s major population centers, including Portland’s southeastern suburbs.

Western Oregon evacuation shelters

Those who have been evacuated due to the ongoing wildfires in Western Oregon can take shelter in any of the locations listed below.

For the Holiday Farm Fire east of Springfield, the evacuation center at Thurston High School is being relocated to Springfield High School

The new center is being set up at Silke Field

All evacuees should head to the new location, and volunteers should start bringing any donations this afternoon.

Smoke and fire respite centers in Eugene and Creswell, which will be open from 8am to 8pm, are listed below.

Lane County continues to work with homeless service providers to provide N95 masks for distribution. 

So far, hundreds have been provided.

Residents east of Blue River have been evacuating to the Deschutes County Fairgrounds, which is serving as a Red Cross Evacuation point and is on stand-by as an alternate livestock and animal location. 

Indoor shelter accommodations are available in the event center. 

RV spots, horse stalls and livestock spots are available. No items are needed at this time.

The Douglas County Fairgrounds are open for evacuees of fires in the county, many of which are burning near Glide. 

In Benton County, the Linus Pauling Middle School will be the primary clean air option for overnight shelter for evacuees. 

The Benton County Fairgrounds will remain as a location for car camping, RV camping and supply and meal distribution site. 

The Linn County Fairgrounds has also been set up as an evacuation center. RV spots are available but horse stalls and livestock spots are full.

The Coos County Fairgrounds has available RV spots, horse stalls and spots for small livestock.

The Oregon State Fairgrounds are open for evacuees of fires burning in the Santiam Canyon area. 

RV spots are available, as well as horse stalls and livestock spots. 

They are currently housing 500 animals and 1,500 families.

Source: KEZI-TV 

Fire managers did get a spot of good news: Higher humidity slowed the flames considerably.

In California, a total of 28 active major fires have burned 4,375 square miles, and 16,000 firefighters are trying to suppress the flames, Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant said.

Large wildfires continued to burn in northeastern Washington State too.

Those who still had homes were not safe in them. A half-million Oregonians were under evacuation warnings or orders to leave.

With air contamination levels at historic highs, people stuffed towels under door jambs to keep smoke out. Some even wore N95 masks in their own homes.

Some communities resembled the bombed-out cities of Europe after World War II, with buildings reduced to charred rubble piled atop blackened earth.

Residents either managed to flee as the flames closed in, or perished.

Millicent Catarancuic’s body was found near a car on her 5-acre property in Berry Creek, California. The flames came so quickly she did not have time to get out.

On Tuesday, she packed several of her dogs and cats in the car but later called her daughter to say she decided to stay. Firefighters had made progress battling the blaze.

The wind was calm. The flames still seemed far away. Then they rushed onto the property.

‘I feel like, maybe when they passed, they had an army of cats and dogs with her to help her through it,’ said her daughter, Holly Catarancuic.

In all, 22 people have died in California since wildfires began breaking out across the state in mid-August.

President Donald Trump will visit California on Monday for a briefing on the West Coast fires, the White House announced.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state – all Democrats – have said the fires are a consequence of global warming.

‘We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the West today,’ Biden said.

The same smoke that painted California skies orange also helped crews corral the state’s deadliest blaze of the year by blocking the sun, reducing temperatures and raising humidity, officials said.

Smoke created cooler conditions in Oregon too, but it was also blamed for making the dirtiest air in at least 35 years in some places.

The air quality index reading Saturday morning in Salem, the state capital, was 512.

The scale normally goes from zero to 500.

‘Above 500 is literally off the charts,’ said Laura Gleim, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Because past air quality was rarely so poor, the government’s yardstick for measuring it capped out at 500, Gleim said.

The department started monitoring in 1985.

The weather conditions that led up to the fires and fed the flames were likely a once-in-a-generation event, said Greg Jones, a professor and research climatologist at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon.

A large high-pressure area stretching from the desert Southwest to Alaska brought strong winds from the east toward the West Coast, reducing relative humidity to as low as 8 per cent and bringing desert-like conditions, even to the coast, Jones said.

Instead of the offshore flows that the Pacific Northwest normally enjoys, the strong easterly winds pushed fires down the western slopes of the Cascade Range.

It isn’t clear if global warming caused the conditions, Jones said, but a warmer world can increase the likelihood of extreme events and contribute to their severity.

The smoke in Portland filled the air with an acrid metallic scent like dull pennies.

It was so thick that Ashley Kreitzer could not see the road when she headed out to work as a ride-hailing driver.

‘I couldn’t even see five feet ahead of me,’ she said.

Berry Creek residents speak with authorities at a road block after the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex fires, passed through in Berry Creek, California, on Saturday

A Butte County Animal Control Officer searches for a cat, which was left behind, at a residence destroyed by the Bear Fire on Saturday

Berry Creek volunteer firefighter Zack Gable (left) lifts up his sons bike at Station 61, which was destroyed in the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex fires, in Berry Creek, California, on Saturday

‘I was panicking, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go out.’

George Coble had no home to return to. He came with some of his employees Saturday to a wasteland of charred tree trunks just outside Mill City, Oregon.

Coble lost everything: his fence-and-post business, five houses in a family compound and vintage cars, including a 1967 Mustang.

The family – three generations that lived in the compound – evacuated with seven people, three horses, five dogs and a cat.

‘We’ll just keep working and keep your head up and thank God everybody got out,’ Coble said.

‘There are other people that lost their family. Just be thankful for what you did get out with.’

Erik Tucker spent the day hauling buckets of water through what remained of his neighborhood to douse hot spots smoldering in tree trunks five days after the wildfire tore through the area.

Tucker, who lives in Lyons, Oregon, had expected the worst but found his family’s home still standing while homes just down the street were gone.

He was coated in ash and smudged with charcoal.

‘No power, debris everywhere, smoke, can’t breathe,’ he said. 

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