Westmoreland neighbor fears Oaks Bottom Bluff fires were set
A relatively small grass fire appeared in Westmoreland along the Oaks Bottom bluff, just off the northwest corner of Wilhelm's Portland Memorial Funeral Home, at 9:18 p.m. on Wednesday, August 14.Because a 911 caller who reported the fire said it was in the empty lot north of the mausoleum owned by Wilhelm's, and south of Llewellyn Elementary School, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews responded to S.E. 14th Avenue, pulling water lines across the empty lot to put it out.But that was not the end of the story: It was followed by a larger wildland fire in the same location, just one week later – at 1:28 a.m. early Tuesday morning, August 20.
The nearby Portland Memorial Mausoleum and the school grounds were not damaged by either fire, but the second blaze came within thirty feet of a neighbor's home atop the Oaks Bottom bluff.
After the first fire was extinguished, homeowner Byron Twyman later told THE BEE, he began walking along the back of the vacant lot, and came upon a person behind a large metal portable storage container. The individual left – but not without comment.
"We're not sure how the first fire started, but we're quite certain that the second fire was arson," Twyman said.
"On August 20, we were awakened around 2 a.m. by the sound of firefighters putting out another brush fire – but this time, the flames were shooting right up over the top edge of the bluff, thirty feet from our house, having started quite a distance down below."
After the sun arose, Twyman went outside, looked down over the bluff, and saw several containers, and checked his outbuilding. "A relatively empty gas can, two full small propane bottles, and a bag of charcoal were missing – and all of those items were down below, near where the fire started.
"So this looks like arson – especially when you see that whoever was involved with this also dumped a recycling can over the edge, and used its contents to build the fire."
A PF&R Arson Investigator arrived to speak with Twyman on the morning after the second fire, telling him he'd follow up. "I haven't heard from the Fire Bureau since; the Portland Police Bureau's advice was to file a 'stolen property report' for the stolen items; but – as for the fire itself – they said that was something the Fire Bureau would deal with."
Requests by THE BEE to the Fire Bureau for more information about these fires have, so far, gone unanswered.
"We're quite certain these are not accidental fires, and our concern is that this could happen again – perhaps catching the large overhanging trees in our back yard on fire, and setting our house on fire," Twyman said. "Also, Portland Fire did a good job putting out the two fires; and our local firefighters came out during the day to look at the site, and plan how to access the area, should this happen again."
Since those two fires, the homeowner reports he has installed bright floodlights to illuminate the lot, and he now also wets down the back of the property every evening.
About that vacant lot, Twyman said that the management of Wilhelm's Portland Memorial had a crew with a "brush hog" cut down bushes and foliage on the lot which blocked the view from the street. "This shows that they are aware of the situation, and are being responsive."
When we asked about the additional security steps they've taken, Wilhelm's Portland Memorial Director Malory Wolf told THE BEE, "We now have a security person on the property all night, every night. We've had issues in the past, and having security personnel present, to approach people after hours, does help."
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