The cause of the deadly Almeda fire in southern Oregon is currently under criminal investigation for possible arson, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said Thursday.
The circumstances of the fire are suspicious, O’Meara said without going into details. State authorities have warned of rumors that forest fires may have been started by political activists, Reuters reported.
The fire started in Ashland on Tuesday, and although it largely spared the Oregon Shakespeare Festival town, the fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the surrounding communities.
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“We have good reason to believe that there is a human element,” said O’Meara, according to Reuters. “We will pursue it as a criminal investigation until we have reason to believe it was otherwise.”
Investigators are also investigating a body found near the source of the fire as part of the criminal investigation, KDRV-TV in Medford reported. Officials didn’t work out.
The fire killed at least two people and the death toll is expected to rise.
A spokesman for the state firefighter’s office stressed that authorities currently have no knowledge of whether any of the state’s forest fires were arson. “Every fire is examined for the possibility of arson so we can either determine it or rule it out,” said Rich Tyler, reported Reuters.
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Two other people – a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother – died trying to escape another wildfire about 250 miles further north.