Investigators with Portland Fire & Rescue believe the Monday evening fire that scorched more than 50 cars and sent up a black column of smoke visible across the city can be categorized as arson, according to a spokesperson for the bureau.
“We know the fire was not set recklessly or set lighting a barbecue,” said Rich Chatman, a public information officer with the bureau. “We know that it was actually something meant to do damage or harm.”
Officials had previously said the fire was “human-caused” and “intentionally set,” but had stopped short of defining it as arson.
As long as the investigation continues, the bureau won’t say why they’re confident the fire was set deliberately. But they have discussed where it was likely lit: near the teeing area in an overgrown driving range along NE 82nd Avenue.
Wind brought the flames south, igniting five townhouses and three businesses, including the Grand Avenue Boxing Club. Pacific Power had to cut the power to the area, affecting more than 10,000 homes and businesses temporarily.
Chatman said investigators are still trying to determine “what level of arson” the fire-setter intended and, therefore, what kind of charge prosecutors could bring.
“In the world that is arson, you can have an arson that means you meant to burn your neighbor’s garbage can,” Chatman said. “But if you burn an apartment complex down while people are sleeping at night, that’s going to be a completely different charge.”
To determine the intended scope, investigators need a suspect. Officials are asking people to report any information about the fire’s origin to their tip line at 503-823-INFO.