Private and public donations have pushed a reward fund to $40,325 as of Friday for information leading to suspects in three possible arson fires, two of which merged to become the Two Bulls Fire that threatened thousands of homes west of Bend, officials said.
"The fires are suspicious in nature, and the ongoing investigation indicates suspicion of potential arson," Sheriff Larry Blanton said in a statement issued Wednesday morning, the rest of which is below:
The Multi-Agency Investigation Team wants any information citizens can provide. Please call with any information about activity, individuals, or vehicles seen on Cascade Timberlands property in the days leading up to the fire.
After learning that the most recent fire, caught quickly south of Skyliners Road at a quarter-acre on Tuesday, also was determined to be suspicious, Sheriff Blanton and Deschutes County have added to the reward.
The sheriff and county have added $5,000 to the reward and the city of Bend also contributed $5,000. Taylor Northwest contributed $2,500 to the effort (Tuesday) night.
With Cascade Timberlands' initial $2,000 contribution, that brought the total reward to $14,500 to anyone with information that leads to a successful conviction of the person or persons responsible.
But then came a flood of more reward donations -- $10,000 from Smith Properties and Friends Dr. James Verheyden, Kevin Spencer and the Garcia Family, and $2,000 from Dalton Baarstad/Brennan Ventury of Vape Game, LLC, pushing the total to $26,500.
Thursday morning, Capt. Shane Nelson reported that Eric and Robin Coats of Shevlin Sand and Gravel had contributed $5,000, putting the total at $31,500. By afternoon, it had reached $36,825, after new donations including $2,500 from Maria and Bob Lotter. Nearly $4,000 more in contributions had been donated by Friday, for a $40,325 total.
Anyone with information that could help identify the suspects is asked to contact the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 1-877-876-8477 (TIPS).
Those interested in making reward contributions is asked to contact Capt. Shane Nelson at (541) 617-3386 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
NewsChannel 21 heard Wednesday from a private donor offering to match all public donations in the next 48 hours, up to "a four-figure number," so that anyone with information about the fires comes forward so those involved can be held accountable.
"We are concerned about our citizens and, given the fact this latest fire is suspicious and human-caused, we need the persons responsible located and held accountable," Blanton said.
"Our community has endured trauma as a result of this fire, and the taxpayers have been burdened by its cost. Their lives have been disrupted, community services have been disrupted, government agency employees have been exposed to dangerous conditions while working this fire, and I truly hope this reward encourages anyone with information to come forward," the sheriff added.
"The public are the eyes and ears to provide information for a successful investigation and effective public safety. Report suspicious activity because if it doesn't look right, it probably isn't," Blanton said.
"The consequences from these fires could have been catastrophic for the city," said City Manager Eric King. "It's important that we find the cause and who's responsible for starting these fires and a reward contribution from the city is the responsible thing to do."
If citizens see suspicious activity or something that doesn't look right, we encourage them to report it to Deschutes County 911.
Capt. Shane Nelson said late Wednesday the donations had flowed in for the fund, and the new total was $26,500, including:
Major Contributors to the Reward Fund
- Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office $2,500
- Deschutes County Admin/BOCC $2,500
- City of Bend $5,000
- Taylor Northwest $2,500
- Smith Properties and Friends $10,000
Dr. James Verheyden, M. D.
The Garcia Family
- Dalton Baarstad/Brennan Venturi $2,000
Vape Game, LLC
- Cascade Timberlands $2,000
Taylor NW has its property on Bull Springs Road, near where two fires that later merged into one broke out Saturday afternoon. The fire began in the area of the Deschutes National Forest boundary with Cascade Timberlands' state-protected forestland.
Cascade Timberlands offered the initial $2,,000 for tips that could identify suspects in the area in the days before the blaze.
For more information on reward contributions, contact Capt. Shane Nelson, (541) 617-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The disturbing news came late Monday as an army of firefighters reported another day of strong progress and lines that held, despite the return of winds, moving to 40 percent containment of the blaze that forced evacuation of 200-plus homes and still has about 2,000 others under a now-reduced Level 1 advisory.
A joint investigation of the origin and cause of the fires is being conducted by the Oregon State Police, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement, Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, the Walker Range Fire Protection Association and Oregon Department of Forestry.
Here's the rest of the initial release, issued Monday night:
"Investigators located the origin of both fires, collected evidence, and have determined that the fires were human-caused.
"The investigation team is interested in any information members of the public can provide. Please call with any information about activity, individuals, or vehicles seen on Cascade Timberlands in the days leading up to the fire.
"Cascade Timberlands has added $2,000 for information that leads to a successful conviction.