Deputies in a single county in Oregon have made 21 arrests this month alone in zones under evacuation notice due to wildfires.
Suspects face charges including criminal trespass, burglary, possession of stolen property, felon in possession of a restricted weapon, and drug possession, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said.
The suspects were caught in evacuation Level 2 and 3 fire zones between Sept. 8 and Sept. 21.
Fifty-four criminal reports were taken in the zone, from 743 activity calls, including calls for traffic stops and suspicious vehicle stops.
In one case, a resident of Estacada called 911 just before 11 a.m. on Sept. 10 to report a maroon SUV with three passengers in his driveway.
The subjects fled the scene but deputies tracked the vehicle down. The driver said the group had been camping but there was no camping gear in the vehicle.
Deputies found the driver had a suspended license and one passenger had a warrant out for her arrest.
A search of the vehicle uncovered a backpack full of drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine as well as burglary tools.
The three suspects were arrested, including two for possessing heroin.
The next day, deputies responded to a report of two suspicious people possibly walking onto a property near Mulino and found they’d stolen two gas-powered generators, a box of hand tools, and at least one gas can.
The suspects were arrested and charged with theft and burglary.
Wildfires have consumed over one million acres in Oregon in recent months.
Clackamas County, which has more than 375,000 residents, borders Multnomah County, which includes Portland.
Almost 5,000 county residents are being kept from their homes because of ongoing fires, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
A curfew is in place in some areas so emergency workers can move around safely, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said.
Roberts said he wanted to reassure the public that the office was coordinating “heavy patrol staffing levels” in evacuated areas.
Two suspicious fires are under investigation, a vehicle fire and a barn fire.
A 14-year-old suspect was arrested on suspicion of starting the latter.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that these two fires are not connected the larger wildfires. Furthermore, there’s no evidence to show any connection to any group or organization,” he said.
“Again, I encourage the public if they had see suspicious vehicles or individuals in the community call 911. Our response time is right now approximately three minutes and again, it’s an incredible amount of patrol out there keeping our communities safe.”
At least six people have been arrested on arson charges in Oregon since July, while others have been taken into custody for alleged looting and other crimes.
Armed men were spotted patrolling some evacuated areas in the county and signs warned looters they would be shot.
Three men were cited last week for manning an illegal roadblock in Multnomah County.
Roberts told reporters last week that calls for service skyrocketed 400 percent from the previous week, but the vast majority of calls turned out to be unfounded.
“I want to reassure everybody that we are on this. And I encourage you if you see anything suspicious to call us. The other thing I want to point out is I’ve been out there personally, the evacuation area, there are very few people out there,” he said. “So our law enforcement officers, if we see somebody out there, they stand out like a sore thumb, and we’re all over it. So I want to continue to reassure the community that we are doing our very best to keep your homes and property safe while you’re gone.”
Roberts warned people that it was illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint and said something tragic could happen if a person overreacted.