Smoke-veiled country roads in Clackamas County are taking on a dystopian feel, as residents in the wildfire evacuation zone post signs boasting of armed patrols and threatening to shoot and kill looters.
Several signs contain some variation of “You loot, we shoot.” One sign captured by a photographer for the Portland television station KPTV between Estacada and Colton was more detailed. “We won’t call your family. Your body will never be found!! Bang bang!”
It’s a grim scene, even in a year that has already brought a global pandemic and recession.
At the same time, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office has fielded hundreds of calls in recent days from residents who were worried about “suspicious vehicles and people” and potential burglaries.
“The vast majority (of reports) were determined to be noncriminal in nature,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release Saturday night.
Law enforcement officials around the state have spoken out to dispel false reports spreading on social media of widespread looting in evacuation zones, as tens of thousands of Oregonians have been forced to flee wildfires.
Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies are helping to patrol evacuated areas of Clackamas County, and Oregon State Police and National Guard members are also assisting with traffic control and other tasks in fire zones.
Law enforcement and community members have also had to contend with armed residents in both counties setting up illegal roadblocks to control who enters and leaves.
On Saturday, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese issued a video statement to address illegal roadblocks set up by residents in east Multnomah County, after someone in the Corbett area started a fire with a firework that was quickly extinguished Friday.
“We understand everyone’s concerns and anxiety during this unprecedented fire season, especially our neighbors living in rural areas,” Reese said, noting the sheriff’s office added extra patrols. “We told people engaging in this behavior that roadways are open to all users and their actions are illegal and they could be subject to a citation or arrest.”
Armed people also tried to control who left and entered the Clackamas County city of Molalla in recent days and have reportedly done so elsewhere in the county, prompting other residents to express both approval and fear in private Facebook groups in recent days. The situation also led Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts to publicly call on self-appointed, gun-toting patrols to immediately stop during a media briefing on Sunday afternoon.
“The last thing I want to see is anything tragically happen because somebody’s overreacting to something they think is criminal and it is not,” Roberts said.
Clackamas County deputies did arrest more than a dozen people in recent days on suspicion of offenses including driving under the influence of influence of intoxicants, theft, domestic violence including felony strangulation, possession of heroin and methamphetamine and criminal trespass.
Many of the people arrested in Clackamas County on suspicion of theft, burglary and other crimes are from Clackamas County.
On Friday, a deputy apprehended two people — Buck Adam Nickel, 41, of Estacada, and Kimberlee Tipton, 52, of Milwaukie — who were trying to take a trailer that the owners left by the side of Judd Road in Eagle Creek while they went to get supplies to fix a flat tire. The owners were Good Samaritans who were traveling around the county to help people evacuate, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Clackamas County deputy cited Tipton for theft and arrested Nickel on suspicion of theft and felon in possession of a firearm.
Deputies also arrested James Dean Shotwell and Sandy Faye Lenox Friday on suspicion of theft and burglary, after they found the pair walking onto a property on Ringo Road near Mulino. Deputies determined Shotwell and Lenox had stolen two gas-powered generators, a box of hand tools including a cordless drill, two leaf blowers, and at least one gas can from a neighboring property, according to a news release.
Molalla police arrested Duane Schlip of Molalla Friday on suspicion of stealing a John Deere Gator side-by-side utility vehicle and potentially other property, in collaboration with Shotwell. Shotwell had the key to the stolen utility vehicle in his pocket, according to the sheriff’s office.
— Hillary Borrud: firstname.lastname@example.org; @hborrud
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