Raw video: Residents forced to leave their homes in Lincoln, Oregon due to raging wildfires.
The circumstances surrounding the fire are suspicious, O’Meara said, without going into detail. Authorities in the state have cautioned against rumors that wildfires may have been set by political activists, Reuters reported.
The fire sparked in Ashland Tuesday and although it mostly spared the Oregon Shakespeare Festival town, the blaze has destroyed hundreds of homes in surrounding communities.
Men walk through the fire-ravaged Coleman Creek Estates mobile home park in Phoenix, Ore., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The Almeda Fire that burned through the towns of Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon destroyed approximately 600 homes, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Scott Stoddard/Grants Pass Daily Courier via AP)
“We have good reason to believe that there was a human element to it,” O’Meara said, according to Reuters. “We’re going to pursue it as a criminal investigation until we have reason to believe that it was otherwise.”
Investigators are also looking into a body that was found near the origin of the fire as part of the criminal investigation, KDRV-TV in Medford reported. Officials have not elaborated.
The fire has killed at least two people and the death toll is expected to rise.
A spokesman for the state fire marshal’s office stressed that authorities don’t know at this point if any of the state’s wildfires were a result of arson. “Every fire is investigated for the possibility of arson so that we can either determine it is or rule it out,” Rich Tyler said, Reuters reported.
Two other people – a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother – died while attempting to escape another wildfire about 250 miles farther north.