ASHLAND, Ore. — “This is it. Is our house going to burn down? Is our whole town going to burn down,” said Esther Platt, an Ashland resident.
That’s what Platt was thinking last Tuesday as the Almeda Fire began just feet away from her Ashland home.
Emergency responders rushed to the fire’s origin a little after 11 o’clock by the BMX park near Almeda Drive and Michelle Avenue.
The fast-moving fire would go on to burn over 2,000 homes and kill three people tearing through the neighboring cities of Talent and Phoenix, devastating entire blocks.
“Just an incredible, intense scene. Something I’ve never experienced before and I never hope to experience again,” said Chief Tighe O’Meara, Ashland Police Dept.
A week later, Chief O’meara says the investigation into what sparked the deadly fire is far from cold.
“The Ashland Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal has determined it was not naturally-occurring and has a human element to it. And so that’s the lens that we’re looking at this through,” he said.
Chief O’Meara says there are multiple leads police are pursuing.
“The guy that started the Phoenix fire must be a suspect,” said Chief O’Meara.
Michael Bakkela is facing multiple charges for starting a second fire West of the railroad tracks and North of Dano Way in Phoenix, the same day as the Almeda Fire.
The two fires merged into one.
Chief O’Meara says APD is also looking at a story NBC5 News broke this week.
A car found engulfed in flames roughly thirty minutes after the Almeda Fire started near Emigrant Lake.
Firefighters say it was deliberately set.
“We would be negligent if we didn’t look at that in connection to the Almeda Fire. It’s a fire that was perhaps deliberately set five miles outside Ashland on the same day. Of course we have to consider it,” he said.
Three fires in one day.
A coincidence or could they be connected?
Chief O’Meara says they’ll do everything in their power to find out.
“If someone is responsible in a criminal capacity, everybody expects that person to be brought to justice,” Chief O’Meara said.