Arson suspected in series of grass fires

Arson suspected in series of grass fires

EUGENE, Ore. - Investigators are trying to find out who is responsible for the blazes that had crews from all over Lane County on their toes.

Eugene police said that because all five fires were set within a period of about an hour -- and in the same vicinity -- that the blazes could not just be a coincidence.

The fire marshal is investigating the fires as arson, according to Glenn Potter with Eugene Fire and EMS.

The fires were located behind the Wal-Mart on West 11th; at Bertlesen Road and Stewart Road; at Bertlesen and 1st Avenue; and two at Bailey Hill Road and 5th Avenue.

Crews from all over the area were called to attack the blazes around 2 p.m. and smoke filled the sky over west Eugene for several hours.

Police said power was cut as a precaution at several locations, while crews battled the flames from the ground -- and from the sky using a helicopter.

"Fire spreads very fast on a day like this," said Captain Steve Swensen with the EPD. "It's important to contain it to keep it from spreading, to keep it from going to structures. And it's very labor intensive process, and having three or more fires break out in close proximity quickly overwhelms your on duty resources."

One witness described a chaotic scene. 

"The whole place filled up with cars," said John Paul Miller-Pomlee. "I was watching the smoke and it looked like it was very small, but it was just moving and moving closer and closer to Wal-Mart and I didn't know what was going on.

"And the whole thing was just smoke," he continued. "And I live right off 18th and Bertlesen and I'm kind of looking after my house. It scared me and I just wanted to make sure everything was all right. The roads were blocked off. I went over there, everything was blocked off. It looks like they were trying to evacuate people from redwoods."

People from both Redwood Apartments and Versa-Logic Computer business went through a partial evacuation as a precautionary measure.

Fire officials say over a hundred acres were burned.